Hey everyone, and Happy Friday! I'm Josh Diaz and I'm really excited to share my playlist with you today! My close friends know that I am a bit of an opera guru (and snob). I own over 130 opera scores and countless records and cds of recordings from Caruso to Calleja.
But I'm clocking out of that job for the weekend and I want to hear some voices that move me, that make my jaw drop or feel some kind of way. This can be a result of some powerhouse vocals that boggle my mind. And at times it can just be a sense of artistry and sensitivity to tone and text. And sometimes, singers are just magical unicorns, like in the last video on this playlist. So let's do some vibe checks and get ready to feel some things!
"For All We Know" - Donny Hathaway
I knew I wanted to start the playlist with this song and this artist because it is a little unexpected. Donny Hathaway's music and records are touted as "part of the foundation of American soul music." And he is best known for his perennial holiday hit "This Christmas" which has been covered by everyone from Diana Ross to NSYNC and CeeLo Green.
But this song, and these words paint a bittersweet moment between lovers. The instrumentation begins simply with just a piano and a few instruments floating through occasionally. But it is the way Donnie savors every phoneme that gets me. He sings through [n]'s and [m]'s in ways we don't think about as "opera-oriented" singers. And stay through to the very end for this one. It is truly breathtaking.
"Round Midnight" - Thelonius Monk and Sarah Vaughan
Fellow jazz singer Mel Torme said that Sarah Vaughan had "the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field." And this song is probably the most famous of Thelonius Monk's oeuvre. The falling diminished chords that are outlined by the slinky melody give a sense of exhaustion at yet another fight with the one you love. Sarah employs all the colors of her voice in this evocative jazz standard that is probably best heard under a hazy cloud of cigar smoke and regret.
Can You Stop The Rain - Peabo Bryson
You probably know of Peabo Bryson even if you don't really recognize his funky first name. He was the duet partner with Roberta Flack for "Tonight I Celebrate My Love", and for the end-credit versions of "Beauty and the Beast" with Celine Dion and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin with Regina Belle. That should be enough to make him a household name. But this song is a quintessential early 90's R&B ballad, and Peabo is playing for keeps! I still don't understand how his voice just sits up there like that. Move over, Beyonce, because this key change is no joke!
Breathe Again - Toni Braxton
I have been obsessed with Toni Braxton's voice for as long as I can remember. Cut to my disappointment upon discovering that my entire voice range fits within her range, and that I can't sing most of her songs because they are too high at pitch and too low if I take them down. Curses! Nevertheless, Toni is a bonze-voiced goddess that gives it to us every track. This song is one of my all-time favorites (I'm getting a sense that I really like sad songs) and she injects such raw emotion into it. Shut up, YOU'RE crying!
Si No Te Hubiera Conocido - Christina Aguilera and Luis Fonsi
This song is one of my favorites from the golden years of Christina's earlier career. You know, when her voice was still young and vibrant and she sang in Spanish. But for me, the real showstopper here is Luis Fonsi. He keeps up with Christina around every corner and even pops out a face-melting Db towards the end! The key change after the bridge gives me chills Every. Damn. Time.
"Total Praise" - Richard Smallwood and Donnie McClurkin
This is a little change of pace, but one of my favorite voices to listen to because it is so unique. Donnie McClurkin is arguably the voice of modern gospel singing. His tone is round and hazy at times, but when it comes to range, it would seem that "the limit does not exist." And this song, written by the masterful pianist in the recording, Richard Smallwood, is a perfect vehicle for Donnie to let loose and wail! Can I get an Amen??!?
"A Change is Gonna Come" - Jennifer Hudson
I will take any chance I get to give props to Jennifer Hudson because I believe she is one of the absolute best voices of our generation. There is seemingly nothing she can't sing. And the power...oooh, yes. I just want to bathe in it. She first made us all clutch our pearls as Effie White in Dreamgirls. And since then, she has gone on to give one jaw-dropping performance after another. And this live performance at a ceremony honoring Denzel Washington is one of my favorites. Denzel's reaction at the end says it all.
"U Plavu Zoru" - Pink Martini
I don't remember when or how I discovered Pink Martini. But this song was definitely one of the ones that I played on a loop when I first encountered them. It begins with solo cello and harp in a dark incantation that gives way to the steady churning of train wheels and eventually, a rhumba. The harmonic and melodic languages melded with the instrumental fabric create an atmosphere of exoticism and darkness. And if that weren't enough, we also have a stunningly gorgeous voice singing the following haunting words in Croatian:
U plavu zoru Tiha noc Sjene su u bijegu Ja cujem zvuk Sta blize zove me U plavu zoru Sa svjetlom, tu Na mojo vrata Ti stizes Naci ces Praznu postelju moju Dok vlak nosi Me' daleko At Blue Dawn Silent night shadows are in hiding I hear a sound that's calling me closer At blue dawn with a light, there at my door you're coming You will find my empty bed while the train is taking me far away I'm sure you will probably want to listen to this one again and again. But also, go discover more of Pink Martini! "My Mind" - Yebba This voice gives me chills, gets me emotional, and takes my breath away every time. She began her career as a background vocalist, but clearly this voice needed to be out in the spotlight. It is a mix of soul, belt, and gospel, and she does runs like lightning. But I think what really gets me with this song especially is the amount of raw emotion she is able to pour into her voice. You can hear every ounce of pain, anger, defiance, and sorrow to a degree that I think we are afraid of exploring as "opera-oriented" singers. This song will bring me to full, rolling tears every time. Don't fight it... "Something" - Snarky Puppy feat. Lalah Hathaway I had to end the playlist with this song for 2 reasons. First, the song itself and the band, Snarky Puppy, just puts me in a mood. If I'm feeling tense or anxious, I put this song on, turn it up, and let it all melt away. It starts out jazzy and atmospheric and then rolls into an all-out, neo-funk breakdown. But the second reason is for Lalah Hathaway, daughter of Donnie Hathaway who was our first artist on this whole playlist. So she has soul literally running through her veins. Nevermind, that about 5 minutes of this song are just the most entrancing scat singing you've ever heard. And nevermind that she has a crazy range or can color the tone of her voice in more ways than I can count. Y'all...at the 6:10 mark, she sings 2 NOTES AT ONCE. And not only can she do that, she can manipulate the intervals. Seeing the band's reaction to this phenomenon is priceless. And you are definitely gonna want to show this to your voice teachers and say, "Explain that!!!" I sincerely hope y'all enjoy this playlist and encounter some musicians and artists that move you as well!