I am in the midst of doing a presentation for the PEVOC 10 conference upcoming in Prague, The Czech Republic in two weeks. In searching YouTube for belters, going back to the beginning of the 20th Century, it has been amazing to see how many of the posts have belters of all sorts doing their thing.
Young people, if you do not know Kate Smith, go listen to her. She certainly was no movie star in terms of her looks. She was rather plain, heavy and, as they used to say, “matronly”, but she could certainly sing. She stood there, planted her feet and knocked the walls down with her high notes. SUNG high notes, not yelled. She was cut from the old mold that was unashamed to “sell the song” with gestures (something no one does now).
If you go find Christina Aguilera (or Carrie Underwood) you will see and hear something very different. Styles have changed so much over the past 50 years that the singing is now very exaggerated. It really is sustained shouting. Yes, it certainly is exciting and amazing to hear (especially in person) but I keep wondering, what’s next? Will the next 50 years see a mutation in the larynx? There really isn’t any kind of sound that is further out than this unless we start getting people who just make noise. Rappers aren’t really singing much of the time. Maybe that’s it — no melody? No actual singing in the old way?
I’m sure that Kate Smith could never have imagined the sounds that these young women are making routinely now. I’m sure, in fact, that if people made those sounds years ago, there were told to stop, because they were considered to be awful. It’s amazing how much the ear gets used to hearing things and then it comes to expect that sound.
So far, anyway, these present moment belters seem to be holding up well enough. I don’t know their individual vocal health history. Maybe some throats are better disposed to these kinds of sounds than are others. In the old days, people were told, “You either have an operatic voice or you don’t,” but I don’t agree with that. I do think, however, that growing up making these sounds is very different than learning to make them as a adult. And, I wonder how they will sound when they are 50, 60 and 70 years old. Kate Smith sounded pretty much the same throughout her long career. Ditto others like Ella Fitzgerald (who sang in chest, but wasn’t really a belter). Only time will tell.
It is true that each generation finds its own form of expression. Aretha was no Beyonce. Barbra Streisand was no Sophie Tucker. What’s next? ??????