Listening to music from many different eras it becomes clear how remarkably different the various voices are. Singing is an art and each artist has their unique style. Youthful music often departs from what the older generations are used to. But, there are many aspects of these trends that are technical and this comes down, at least in part, to how different singers choose to perform. Even keeping trends in mind, it’s clear that stars of the old days have a certain talent and style that is largely unmatched today. A big part of that is related to their quirks, but also to the technology that was available at the time. For these reasons and we don’t tend to hear singers today that sound like the performers we enjoyed in the old days.

Dean Martin Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra in 1962
Via: Wiki Commons/CBS Television

Judy Garland

In the heart-wrenching classic song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Judy Garland hit a range of notes near the intended notes- something that autotune corrects for today so that artists sound like they hit the notes perfectly. This is like airbrushing the texture right out of a painting. In this case the inconsistencies are like the lines an artist leaves behind in their paintbrush. Without it the music is much less dynamic.

Judy Garland Promo Photo from 1950
Via: Wiki Commons/MGM Studios

Her vibrato combined with her techniques of amping up to and easing down from the notes makes every single second of her songs a treat to listen to. It also means you can tell who is singing right away- each song is distinctly hers. However, singers today are often trained to hit notes exactly (and/or auto-tuned to hit them), leaving out some of that intriguing artistry that stars like Garland possessed in abundance.

According to musician, teacher, and YouTuber Fil Henley from Wings of Pegasus, the comparison between a Kelly Clarkson recording of the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Garland’s famous version shows exactly how the standards have changed today. The modern star doesn’t have the variation in the notes that Garland does despite having a very lovely voice.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday used unusual inflections, soft singing, raspy vocal fry, and unique phrasing of her sung notes to create a sound like no other. In fact, she was rumored to have been kicked out of some bands for not singing louder and in a more contemporary style, as she didn’t have a huge range and wasn’t a loud singer. But, she stuck to her guns and only enhanced her particular style until it became that signature voice the world fell in love with. Sh turned her so-called “weakensses” as a singer into her strengths.

Billie Holiday Singing in 1947
Via: Library of Congress/William P. Gottlieb

Her inflection of certain words at times makes it sound as though she’s posing a question to the listener. Holiday had her own way of singing that seemed to change the inflection so it became a personal expression rather than some kind of formula for a song. It may have even hurt her career to do so, but it also gave us the truly one-of-a-kind music that we love her for.

She also plays with the rhythm of her songs – almost as if she were playing an instrument and improvising a new swing melody. According to singer Beth Roars Holiday’s “behind the beat” delivery influenced the likes of Frank Sinatra and gives her songs an unusual feeling. This is part of her signature style, but few in the music industry today can (or would be allowed to) match that type of freedom in their music.

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby sang low and breathy- something singers today are told not to do. As Polyphonic describes the newly-invented microphones could capture a larger range of sound without having the singers having to belt it out. So, Crosby sang more softly than his contemporaries. This is what gave his deep voice that smooth and comforting sound that soothed generations of listeners.

Bing Crosby 1951 with Mic
Via: Wiki Commons/CBS Radio

He was one of the first crooners and his first hit was “Out of Nowhere” in 1931. From there that style became the norm for many popular singers like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, but it simply wouldn’t have been possible without microphones. Even so few could croon as well as Crosby, with his mellow voice that kept a steady pace and delighted his listeners.

Today crooning is no longer in fashion for major pop stars. Many singers are now trained and valued primarily for power (loudness) and range over personal style. You have to wonder what these singers would have been told to change if they had been rising stars nowadays!

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