NPR’s 50 Great Voices – a Fascinating Way to Discover New Music

NPR’s 50 Great Voices series explores 50 of the world’s greatest voices in recorded history. This list was of great interest to me because I’ve become a bit of a voice connoisseur. I’ve been doing an occasional series of my own on outstanding voices, so if you’re interested in knowing who I’ve written about so far, please check it out.

Here’s how NPR got the process started:

The NPR audience first nominated voices to be considered for the series, and then used our online interactive roundup to hear music from many of the names submitted by both the audience and a panel of experts. They could then vote for their favorites.

A panel of music experts then narrowed the choices down to 50. Many of the choices were controversial because of artists who were not included on the list. For example, Frank Sinatra is not one of the choices. According to Oliver Wang, a member of NPR’s panel of experts, the goal of the project is to “look at artists who are great, but not as recognizable or as obvious a choice as Frank.”

I think that’s a fantastic idea. NPR has a broad listening base. It’s wonderful to introduce new artists to people who might otherwise not be able to find them. I was browsing through the list, and I’ve already made some interesting finds.

One artist about whom I would like to learn more is Oumou Sangare. She sings with the Wassoulou sound, which draws on the rhythms and folklore of her ancestral home region in southern Mali.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Egyptian singer Umm Kullthum, one of the Arab world’s most famous vocalists, on the list. Contrapuntist and I learned about her during our interview with Kobi Farhi, lead singer of Orphaned Land, an Israeli heavy metal band. We were interested in becoming better acquainted with Middle Eastern music, and we had asked Farhi for some recommendations.  Kullthum was one of the names he had given us.

Another vocalist from the diverse list is Ukrainian-born composer and cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, who became a popular performer with both Jews and Germans in the 1920s.

As a metalhead, I was cautiously hopeful that the list would have one of the great voices of heavy metal, like Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, or Ronnie James Dio. NPR can be pretty open-minded, but heavy metal is a big leap for people unfamiliar with the genre. No true heavy metal vocalists were included, but I was thrilled to see two hard rock legends – Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin and Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. If you don’t know who they are, you’ve been living in a sad, sad world and must check them out immediately:

Robert Plant (singing one of my all-time favorite songs, “Whole Lotta Love”)

Freddie Mercury

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this wonderful resource, and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the wonderful voices from around the world.  Kudos to NPR for a great idea.

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