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I've sort of run out of steam with the 20th-century chanteuses I was highlighting. Lots and lots of recordings to listen to, of course, but not a lot of my favorite female jazz singers I haven't posted about at least once. So what about the great rock-n-roll singers? I find that almost all of them were men. I'm setting aside R&B and soul singers, like Aretha Franklin, one of the greatest singers of the 20th century (to anyone with any discernment), and ditto James Brown, say, or Otis Redding. It's not a matter of race: Little Richard and Chuck Berry, along with Jimi Hendrix and others, certainly inhabited the world of rock-n-roll, but it became more and more dominated by white artists as time went by in the 50s and into the 60s, and the only black rock-n-roll singer whose star shines in the highest firmament to me is Little Richard, of whom more later. The prominent female rock singers, like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, are largely over-rated, in my view. Joplin might have become a really great singer, but her career was so terribly short. Probably my favorite female rocker is Marianne Faithfull, but it's hard to put her in the same category as the greatest male r-n-r singers, such as John Lennon. Charlie Pierce famously maintains that the only wrong answer to "what's your favorite Beatles song?" is "Revolution Number 9", a point of view I'm in sympathy with, but can't agree with in the detail. "Revolution Number 9" isn't a song, but there are songs from the white album that are wrong answers: "Piggies" and "Oh-bla-di", for example. But the white album also includes much of John Lennon's best work with the Beatles. Not just his best writing, but his best singing. Take as an extravagantly great example one of my very favorite Beatles songs, probably not well known to generations younger than mine, but which features one of John's most wonderful vocal performances, among other things - "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" (1968): I loved him as if I knew him.
Lotte Lenya didn't have a beautiful voice. She had an incomparable gift. Her husband, the brilliant composer Kurt Weill, said that all of his melodies came to him first in her voice. Her voice embodied the mid-20th-century German Zeitgeist, and almost perfectly captured everything about the artistic fusion of the art of Weill with that of Bertolt Brecht. Here she sings "Surabaya Johnny" from the Brecht-Weill "Stí¼ck mit Musik" Happy-End. She remains an inescapably important chanteuse of the 20th century, maybe the most inescapable.
As long as we're going beyond all those chanteuses I've been highlighting, here's "All the Things You Are". That's Charlie Parker on alto sax, Miles Davis on trumpet, Max Roach on drums, and I forget who else. This recording is so utterly perfect that it makes me cry. Someone posted a comment on this, on youtube or somewhere else, "this cured my cancer", which I thought pretty well summed it up.