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Oct. 25 2012

Top 5 – Favorite Familiar Female Singers

By Kati Harrison | Posted in Host Blogs | 12 Comments


The process of compiling a top 5, 10, 25 or 205 list is out of my comfort level as my tastes ebb and flow and evolve over time.  In the spirit of lightheartedness, I will give it a shot.  There are singers who have made an indelible impression on me, more than 5, with their artistry and the uniqueness of their instruments.

Maria Callas was not a love at first hearing, but over time her voice has grown on me.  No one has ever sounded like La Divina.  She was and remains one of a kind.  Those eyes are pretty fabulous too!



If velvet sang, it would sound like Jessye Norman.  Is she a soprano? A mezzo soprano? Who knows, and who cares!  Norman bends and shapes her voice around whatever she is singing, and yet her voice always remains familiar.













When I first heard Astrud Gilbert on the iconic orange and black recording featuring her husband, singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist, Stan Getz, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.  Lip sync to Astrud.  Bossa nova singers like the legendary Elis Regina were great, but Astrud Gilberto defined how singers sang and sing Bossa nova.  “Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) and “The Girl from Ipanema”  just don’t sound right unless they are sung in that alluring breathlessly off key fashion.








They say that Billie Holiday left a beguiling scent trail of gardenia in her wake.  That could be because she wore gardenias in her hair.  What a voice!  Of everyone on this list, perhaps Billie Holiday’s voice is the most familiar to my ears.  It’s not just the  familiar texture of her voice, her extraordinary phrasing and her vulnerability that move me.  I feel in her songs and especially in the way she sings them that Billie Holiday is my ambassador; an ambassador for all women.




I grew up hearing Linda Ronstadt as my father was a fan, and I became one too.  She has fearlessly covered the musical waterfront including Soft Rock, Country, Gilbert and Sullivan, Big Band, Mariachi and Salsa music with style and elegance.  I would know her voice even if it was a needle in a haystack.












I’m a rule breaking troublemaker and will hear about it from WBJC’s Web-keeper, Diana Ross. 😀  However, I must add one more familiar female voice.  Can anyone say “The Way We Were?”  Pianist Glenn Gould was a rabid Barbra Streisand fan, so I’m in good company.  No one sounds like Babs!



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Kati Harrison


Kati is WBJC's Operations Director and weekend host. Her full bio can be read here.

12 Responses to Top 5 – Favorite Familiar Female Singers

  • Reed Hessler
    Reed Hessler says:

    About a year or so ago, I heard an interview by David Dye on “World Cafe”. I believe it was with Joao Gilberto, or at least someone present at the recording session for “The Girl from Ipanema”. Apparently Astrud Gilberto was never intended to appear on the record (in the original, uncut version on the album, her husband actually sings the first verse), but when the engineers arrived in the studio, she was the only person there, so she sang the song to test the microphone before everyone else arrived. When they played back the recording and heard the results, they decided to use it.

    • Kati Harrison
      Kati Harrison says:

      I remember hearing about this. Thanks for mentioning the story. Also, Stan Getz maintained that he had to push hard to convince Joao Gilberto to “allow” Astrud to sing.

  • Diana Ross
    Diana Ross says:

    Hey, you used my kind of math! LOL

  • Doug says:

    Hi Kati,

    Nice to see Astrud Gilberto on your list… one of the first radio programs I ever listened to, at the age of about eleven, was an evening jazz program on WTOP-AM here in the DC area, and that was where I first heard “The Girl From Ipanema”. The show’s theme song was the Charlie Byrd / Stan Getz version of “One-Note Samba” – both have been favorites of mine for… ugh… 50 years! Thanks for the memories!



  • Judith Krummeck
    Judith Krummeck says:

    I enjoyed your eclectic top five (or six) list, Kati. As you say, though, it’s difficult to pin down something so subjective. Today, my top five tenors might be Juan Diego Florez, Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli, Placido Domingo and Johan Botha, but who knows how the mood might take me next week?! 🙂

    • Diana Ross
      Diana Ross says:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one whose tastes are constantly changing!

    • Kati Harrison
      Kati Harrison says:

      Judith, I thought of doing a top-5 tenors, but the idea made my brain hurt. :)I love your list! Johan Botha proves that there are some great contemporary operatic voices.

  • Dyana Neal
    Dyana Neal says:

    Love all of these singers, Kati, but I agree that it’s incredibly hard to choose favorites. I’d have to add Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, and Patsy Cline to my list.

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