Serious Question: Do We No Longer Appreciate Singers With Big Voices?

September 16, 2014  |  

I did a brief post yesterday looking for your opinions on Monica’s performance of the National Anthem at the Mayweather v. Maidana fight over the weekend. Just as I thought, the reactions to her version of the song, which was full of bravado and and notes held for quite a long time, were mixed. But one comment about her performance stuck out to me and really made me think:

“SAANNNNGGGG Monica!! People’s ears have been conditioned to like mediocre singers who can’t sing. For some reason, black people are now embarrassed by singers with big voices and who “go to church” outside of the church walls.”

Was I embarrassed by her? No! Of course not.

Or at least, I didn’t think I was…

But then I thought about the fact that I’ve heard a friend say that they were embarrassed by another black woman with a big voice taking folks to church in front of millions recently. At the Academy Awards earlier this year, 20 Feet of Stardom star Darlene Love, at the age of 72, finally had the main stage and her chance to shine. When she did, my friend said that she did the absolute most with her impromptu rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”

“It was just way too much.”

I personally thought that she sounded great, and that considering the fact that she’d been in the background (literally) for most of her career, she was taking full advantage of something that was often taken from her–the spotlight. She wanted to show the world what she could do, and if you’re going to show up in front of a huge audience for the first time, why not show out?

And then I got to thinking about other singers out there with big voices whose work isn’t necessarily received with open arms like the big voices of yesteryear. Aretha has a big voice. Patti has a big voice. Chaka has a big voice. Gladys has a big voice. Whitney had a big voice. For years, their vocal talents were what we knew and embraced. They were the standard. But women today with big voices like Monica, Fantasia and even Jennifer Hudson receive furrowed brows from time to time for their music and performances while singers with watered down and studio-made vocals are cited as “divas” and get all the love. Some say that the vocal powerhouses of today do “too much” and I can admit that I’ve been one of those individuals before. But is it really about embarrassment?

As someone who currently sings in a church choir during my free time, I’m surrounded by big voices. I don’t necessarily have one, but I can appreciate those who do and put a little stank on a song that gets people out of their seat and shouts the praises of God. But even those vocalists can overdo it sometimes.

And I think that’s really what the issue is, at least for me.

When I think of a Whitney Houston, she was THE voice, and that voice was one of the most powerful that I’ve ever heard. However, Houston had great control of that vessel. She could be soothing and she could take you to church just enough without ever making you feel like she was trying too hard or literally screaming at the top of her lungs. She gave goosebumps on a regular basis. But quite often, people today get on the microphone and show off so much that you walk away feeling confused (and possibly with a headache) rather than feeling like you want to give a standing ovation.

I do love and appreciate the church-bred voice though. K-Ci, Jo Jo and Johnny Gill’s vocals are some of my favorites. And I love me some Chaka and Mary J. Blige. But I do think that there’s a time, place and a song for everything. The National Anthem doesn’t need all the extra pomp and circumstance, so for me, that’s why I wasn’t crazy about Monica’s performance. However, she’s performed extraordinarily on many other occasions. I guess you could also say it’s about preference. And as I said, there’s a time and place for putting your foot all the way in a song and showing people all that your voice is capable of. But no, personally, I’m not embarrassed by Monica’s vocal abilities, and in fact, I admire them. I wish that more of the people winning awards and taking center stage sounded like her. But she already has proven that she has a great deal of talent, so to me, she really didn’t need to do so much for a song that requires so little. Less is more sometimes.

But then again, what do I know? She’s the multi-platinum Grammy winning artist, and I’m just a writer, so clearly she’s doing something right.

What do you think?

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