The evolution of great singers: Is it better or worse now?
When someone is asked who the greatest singers of all time are, which era do you “think” they will choose from? Also, what particular criteria would they “use” to “determine” who the best actually is? The thing that makes this even more complicated is the fact that people’s voices usually change as they get older. Rarely does someone keep the same tone and delivery of what they may have had 10 to 20 years ago. So with that being said, has the quality of promoted singers gotten better or worse over time? Can a Justin Bieber or Rihanna compare to Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin? What about Beyonce? Let’s consider a few things: First record labels from “back in the day” used to be concerned with how well vocalists could actually “sing.” If they had a great voice, their chances were much better to get signed. However, most of today’s labels seem to only be concerned about “the marketability of the artist.” In other words, it won’t make a difference if they can sing or not as long as they can “sell.” Back in the day they wanted artists to sell too, but they preferred them to be able to sing more than anything. Another difference is technology. 20 years ago a singer had to “practice” a song before going into the studio so that the time would not be wasted learning material. However, today even if the artist is “off key” most engineers will simply “auto tune” the vocals to the desired pitch. As for the live concert, today’s artists use auto tune and/or voice samples to save their voices (and hopefully not embarrass themselves by hitting “ugly” notes). Today’s singers sound absolutely perfect, but is it really them singing? Years ago concerts would be cancelled or postponed if a singer had a sore throat. Now the show goes on and you will hear their voices clear as a bell while the artist simply “lip syncs” to the vocal track. Does this make today’s singers better? We all know that the human voice can often be a fragile instrument. Over exertion can lead to a singer going hoarse and ruining the performance. I remember years ago with I was traveling along with Jeffrey Osborne for part of his tour, he would often “keep a scarf around his neck” to “preserve” his voice. Many established groups (old and new) are relying more on the “vocal sample” to fine tune their performances. Is that fair? If someone asked you what era produced the greatest singers, what would “you” say? Chris Brown can sing (from the new generation), but even on his own shows you will still hear voice samples all over the place. Some of the singers from the old days that could sing a show live and have no problems were Luther Van Dross, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, Teddy Pendergrass, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, Gerald Levert, the O’jays, Temptations, 4 tops, the Supremes, and Aretha Franklin, just to name only a few. Great singing is always up to the interpretation of the listener. While I am not a big fan of most of today’s new generation singers, I will give high props to Beyonce. At least I “know” she can sing (even though she will still do a good deal of lip syncing during part her performances). The best is “all speculation,” and most times what the audience doesn’t know “won’t hurt them.” However, I feel the artistry of the human voice should be a “natural phenomenon,” and great singers should be people who “actually sing.” I hope that we all will still support live music, for it is one of our valued treasures that is slowly headed towards extinction… Thank you for checking out my Daily Thought, and as always I wish you the very best that life has to offer.
Aretha Franklin and Brett Jolly (with red bass guitar in background)