Maria Stuart

Maria Stuart
Howell, Michigan, USA
February 17
Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at or Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.


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NOVEMBER 11, 2009 3:04PM

Springsteen robbed of spot on NPR's 50 Great Voices list

Rate: 18 Flag

images-3Bruce Springsteen got snubbed. So did Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Patti Smith, Nancy Wilson, Helen O'Connell, Tom Petty and Grace Slick.

These amazing artists didn't make the final list of nominees for National Public Radio's project to explore what listeners and music experts determine are 50 great voices in recorded history.

Also snubbed? David Byrne, Shirley Temple, Annie Lennox, and Frank Zappa. And the royal snubbing of all time goes to The Beatles: there isn't a single Beatle — not a John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison or Ringo Starr — on the list.

This ambitious project is both no-win and no-lose. It's not a definitive determination of the 50 greatest voices of all time, just 50 great voices, so there are no real winners and losers. The aim of the project, according to NPR, is to "discover and re-discover awe-inspiring vocalists from around the world and across time."

What music lover couldn't get on board with that?

Even though there are no right and wrong answers, no one will be on board with each of the 50 great voices that end up being selected for exploration. Some music lovers are already finding huge nits to pick with the list of 126 voices from which the final 50 will be culled, including me. (Seriously, they didn't include Bruce Springsteen. Bruce! What were they thinking?)
In short, this project is genius.

Whether we music lovers are pleased or pissed, we'll have plenty to talk about when the final list is released. The year-long exploration of those 50 great voices is set to kick off in January.

You can check out the artists from which the final 50 will be selected on NPR's website.

And you can enjoy a wonderful Bruce Springsteen performance with the equally incredible E Street Band below.


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I am impressed with the variety of voices they put on the list, which is definitely a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't exercise, as you say, Maria.

But no Ringo???? What were they thinking?
Maria, perhaps they will put Bruce on the 'poets' list...
Interesting list that NPR compiled. The inherent problem of such lists is the seeming lack of consistent criteria for selecting the finalists. The term "Great Voices" is pretty open to interpretation. The quality of Johnny Cash's voice won't make anyone forget Placido Domingo's. But if you're judging by style, interpretation of the material and influence, Cash was one of the major voices of his era.
AHP, I hear you. And as tragic as no Ringo is, I still can't get over Bruce not making the list. Bruce!

I like that thought, Catherine. I've always been amazed that Bruce doesn't always sound so ‘well-written’ when he speaks, but his work is always so elegantly eloquent. Therein beats the heart of a poet, for sure.

Stim, I agree with you about Johnny Cash, and he mightily deserves his spot on the list of finalists. That's the fun thing about the list -- it's open to any and all interpretation, and the choices made give rise to all sorts of conversations, which is good.
can you give me a clue?

i't seem to find ann wilson or pat benitar
i must be blind
Ohhhhh, I feel so very young. I have heard OF many of these people, but not necessarily heard them...
AshKW -- The cool thing about the NPR site is that you can hear clips of each of the artists. You should check it out! While I'm not all that young (read: old), there are some folks I've never heard of, so I'll be spending time on the site.

But you have heard Bruce Springsteen, haven't you?
Huge variety - and I'm glad they didn't try to do "greatest" - this list bears exploring!
The poets down here don't write nothin' at all...they just stand back and let it all be. One of my fave Bruce lines, and one of my fave songs of his - thanks for choosing that one.

and yes, he's big on my list of distinctive voices ever!
Made my pics. Very strange to have Edith Piaf and a hip hop rap-singer on the same list. My top five ended up: Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin and for the life of me I can't remember the 5th (I had to let go of so many really good ones to whittle it down to 5).

Best thing about that list is that there are several singers I'd love to check out more. THANKS!
I just checked the list to see if my favorite--Bob Dylan--was on it and yes, he is. I wanted to make sure they were being open with the interpretation of "voice." I'm glad they are!
The ex woulda' bin crushed too...I went with Tomcat(Waits), Lady Day(Billie Holiday), The Little Sparrow (Edith Piaf), Satchmo(Louis Armstrong), and that Master of Erotic Despair(Leonard Cohen)... Funny, spent years on da' road followin' some great bands (not a groupee), Stones, first tour in my backyard in 64 started a tune's lifestyle... Many old voices were the best, but the Blue's have had some o' da' greatest... Shoot us your A list... NPR always has great shyte, your spot on there! RRR
jane -- the final list isn't coming out until January. The list on the NPR site is of the finalists.

Karin, how could anyone trust the project if Dylan wasn't on the list?

skeletnwmn -- it is a wide-ranging list, isn't it? I made my picks based on my listening pleasures, rather than on how influential I feel the artist is. My five picks are Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison. If Bruce Springsteen had made the list of nominees, I likely would have let go of Aretha (may the music gods have mercy on my soul -- get it?)

While I am miffed about Bruce Springsteen not making the cut, I was pleased to see Tom Waits on the list. I love Tom Waits, an underappreciated artist in my opinion. He made my list of top 10, but something had to give to get the number down to 5. This was hard.

Silkstone -- Oh, I knew you were cool!

Owl -- Happy exploring.
No Mick Jagger? Not a single Beach Boy? Billie Joel? Peter Gabriel? Roger Daltry? Patti Labelle? Queen Latifa? Neil Young? Lou Reed? Ricky Lee Jones? John Lee Hooker? B.B. King? Muddy Waters? Not a single Neville brother?

But yes, they have David Bowie? I mean, I like Bowie well enough, but Bowie instead of Jame Brown? (James Brown!) I mean, c'mon! And Fred Astaire? (Voice, not feet, NPR!) Karen Carpenter? In 15 years, will anyone remember Karen Carpenter?

Mr. Moran -- I love your taste in music, and appreciate your oy.
No Neil Young? And the world weeps...
I'll add my name to the list of those who think Neil Young shoulda been there. Also, I'm not really a U2 fan, but where is Bono? Is he there on this list? Wouldn't have minded seeing Emmylou Harris and/or Lucinda Williams.

Spent my votes on Hanks Williams, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Van Morrison, and Neko Case. OMG, I'm the whitest person alive. And getting old. I'm gonna be an old white person very soon. And I can show you the dance moves to prove it.
At least they are showing Tom Waits some love. His voice may not be "pretty", but it is definitely unlike any other in music today. But yeah, Bruce, Bono and the Beatles all got shafted.
Joan Baez not on the list to choose from? harummph!
As a long time Bobophile, I used to readily concede to doubters that his voice was an acquired taste and simply drew my line in the sand at his prowess as a songwriter. But now that I've grown older, I realize that his voice is one of the most indelible sounds of my lifetime. And seriously who has a more expressive voice--from the raucous humor of Rain Day Women to the ironic detachment of Watchtower; from the warm comfort of New Morning to the despair of Not Dark Yet and the aching beauty of If You See Her Say Hello. I always say the difference between Sinatra and Dylan is that on any day of the week Dylan could My Way his own, but even on his best day Sinatra couldn't touch Like a Rolling Stone.
I woke up this morning and thought: Laura Nyro. Tony Bennett

I checked the list. No Laura Nyro. NO LAURA NYRO. And, crime of all crimes, NO TONY BENNETT.

No Tony Bennett?

And how about these folks, whose voices are cool and who've had amazing contributions to the music world: Beverly Sills, Paul Simon, George Clinton, Lyle Lovett, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Michel Stipe, Sly Sylvester, Leon Russell.

I really need to quit sitting at the computer in my pajamas obsessing about this, but no Laura Nyro, no Tony Bennett, no Bruce Springsteen? BRUCE?
..and no Burton Cummings. The range of his voice was amazing.
Thank you so much for the essay and the video links. anyone whio can remember the impact of The Rising on our nation post 9/11 and teh way it united us in sorrow and compassion is unfogivably ignorant or young. smile. AND:
Any list which omits the strong voice and transcendent brilliance of Bruce Springsteen,the blue collar born troubador who never sold out is just another plutocratic puff piece from the neo-liberals at NPR--sorry i am not buying and though i have enjoyed NPR news, i am going to unsubscribe for this stupid and incalculably classist slight to someone who is arguably the most sublimely down to earth unifier of our nation's often combative sub-groups because his voice is the voice of the struggling american hero...Rock on Bruce
Patsy Cline is on the list.
Steven, thanks for spotting my (big embarrassing) error with Patsy Cline. I don't know how I blew by that one, but I will make the correction. Again, thanks.
No Prince, no Bono, no Michael, no Tony Bennett, and no James Brown, but they somehow found room for Notorious BIG, Leonard Cohen, Slick Rick, and Busta freaking Rhymes?!? This was a TERRIBLE list. That having been said, I picked (from the rather limited selections they provided): Jeff Buckley, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Freddie Mercury, and Chuck D.
How can any great voices list not include Michael Jackson's remarkable voice. As a boy and then as a man, he possessed a four octave vocal range. Just listen to "I'll Be There;" MJ was only 11 years old.

It's incredible that he is not included on this list.
Thank you for the Bruce Springsteen piece!!! He's a great one, and Max Weinberg is awesome on the drums. Rated
I totally agree about Bruce--what a mistake. I panicked when I couldn't find Aretha until the very end. And I am dumbfounded and incredulous that that James Brown (!!!!) isn't here.
OK. I can't resist this topic. But where is Alice Cooper? Johnny Rotten? Oh wait, that's a different list. I'm with you on Tom Waits. I'd rank him as one of the great poets of the last hundred years, though. Settled on Otis Redding, Ray Charles (Hey, I'm from Georgia) Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong.
You folks are coming up with lots of great names missing from this list. Prince (he did make Beth Mann's list of sexiest men in rock, didn't he? Check it out:, probably an even bigger honor!); Bono; James Brown; Michael Jackson, for chrissakes! No Chrissie Hynde, either, or Sting.

I don't think these people really care about some list ....
Gee, I was originally thinking that NPR was nominating the 50 BEST voices but as soon as I saw Bob Dylan in there I knew that wasn't true. Certainly Springsteen is worthy of this list as are others--some of whom have better voices than "The Boss". Plus, NPR, as always, "must" be PC. I didn't recognize about a third of the nominees. But, NPR is asking each person to nominate 5 and I have no trouble doing that from this list. Oh, and by the way, I don't see my favorite vocalist among these, Lou Rawls. Neither do I see Smokey Robinson. And if Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are in there, where is Eddie Arnold or Burl Ives?
going to see him next week, guests of some people that are flying us in for the event in Baltimore. My bride loves Bruce, seen him dozens of times over the years. It should be great regardless of what anyone says.
Walter -- You've come up with some more great voices. And I was thinking about Burl Ives and the list just a bit ago.

bbd -- you married well. The concert will be memorable, I am sure. I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time in his pre-big arena days, and I've seen him in the big venues since. His shows are truly great events, full of energy and musical love. The friend who introduced me to Springsteen (when I was just a young girl) saw him in concert on the west coast not that long ago and said he's as good as ever. Do let me know via PM how you liked the concert!
I'm with you on this oversight big time. And hello, what about OS? I wrote a tribute to Bruce on his 60'th (!) birthday and probably others did too... no EPs, no cover posts, nada. Yo! He's The Boss fer cry-eye!
holy cow, how much do I LOVE you for posting that vid??? let's say that if y0u were a dude, I'd offer.....favors. ;)

instead, I'll just say "thanks!" from a South Jersey girl with her own Bruce story (we alllllll have one).

didn't have the patience to find out if if he's on there, but they better include Caetano Velos0 (I mean, seriously, Cucurrucucu Paloma is in-freakin-credible!!!) or I'ma gonna kick their butts.

It is my understanding that NPR requested people to submit the names of unique/memorable voices. If lots of our favorites weren't nominated it's because we didn't nominate them! I haven't actually looked at the list, but I'm with you regarding Bruce.
A big thumbs down for not including the late great Ibrahim Ferrer, but kudos for including Jackie Wilson.

Sad to say, but Springsteen doesn't have a great voice. He has a great delivery, great stage presence, and great songwriting skills, but he doesn't have a great voice.
Bruce, like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, doesn't possess a fabulous vocal instrument, but I'd argue that all of their voices are worthy of inclusion. It's all in how you define "voice." Dylan and Waits are on the list because of their music and message; Bruce should've been included for those reasons and more. The guy's brilliant!
Just watched Thunder Road yesterday on TCM, am living in Appalachia,spent most of my life in New York City...bruce Springsteen has provided the sublime soundtrack to my well-lived life and eyewitness to the waste of the poor and the working class in this think how "small minds damn the Great with faint praise" What is this pejorious asininity- rock artists have to have voices like Enrico Caruso?
Rock singers need to be able to convey the respective depth and lyricism of their poetic work and its accompanying music. If there were ever a better voice to convey the absolute beauty of the haunted world weariness and faithful capacity for love than that gypsy, hot rod angel of music ministry Bruce Springsteen s/he would have to be divine indeed.
aminahyaquin - A agree. And you just may be a bigger Bruce Springsteen fan than me!
I will admit to being a big fan of Neko Case and that I own her entire catalog. With that said, I must also express my extreme displeasure of the omission of Neil Young. I understand that this list needed to be pared down in order to represent both past masters and contemporary music. But the body of Mr. Young's work; the breadth and longevity of his influence really needed to be recognized. Mr. Young is most certainly Bob Dylan's equivalent and again, the body of Mr. Young's work, including his releases of the last decade eclipse that of Bob Dylan's in both listenability and creative scope. His songwriting aside, the unique quality of his voice and the emotion and honesty conveyed therein requires reconsideration. Mr. Young is indeed one of the top fifty, if not one of the top ten voices of the last 40-plus years. The fact that he was somehow overlooked in an effort to include many of the other artists that were included in the remaining 100 is a travesty at best and an outrage at worst.
I was just looking at that list in RS a couple of days ago.

Abysmal. Although by now I should know better than to expect better.

Honestly, I'm a huge Neil Young fan. But when he makes the Top 100 all-time list of vocalists, to the exclusion of sometime bandmates Steve Stills, Graham Nash, and David Crosby, something's gone badly awry, there.

Jeez, at least Etta James made it to the list.

And obviously, someone drew the line somewhere, as far as era and genre- because Nat Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Anita O'Day, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, Dinah Washington clean most of the clocks on the list. I thought we were talking all-timers, here.

No Persuasions. No Blind Boys of Alabama. No gospel singers.

I'm not going to get into placement. I deleted a host of comments, in the interest of brevity.

Curtis Mayfield, #40? ...sorry, can't help myself. (Levi Stubbs!)

My personal list of the 25 Most Underrated Singers of the past 40 years- the list is alphabetical:

Ruth Brown

James Milton Campbell (Little Milton)

Burton Cummings

Betty Carter

Randy Crawford

David Crosby

Ani DiFranco

Vince Gill

Emmylou Harris

Corey Harris

David Hidalgo

Bruce Hornsby

Chrissie Hynde

Al Jarreau

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Alison Krause

John Martyn

Aaron Neville

Todd Rundgren

Ricky Skaggs

Pops Staples

Gordon Sumner (Sting)

Leon Thomas

Doug Wamble

Keith Whitley

A few of those people have had hits. But how soon we forget, these days. And they're all singers with good voices. Some of my favorite singers are acquired tastes, or inconsistent. I've left them off my list for that reason. (Although I notice quite a few of them on that Top 100 list.) Others were left off simply because I needed to draw the line...I started out with 10 ;^)

Plenty of on-line content and Youtube up there, for anyone who cares to dig. Happy hunting.
I bet you never heard of him

(yes, it's a long tune. He does eventually start singing again.)

I just realized we were looking at two different lists...I was talking about the Rolling Stone Top 100 ;^0

I wonder how many of my personal 25 choices made it to the NPR list...going to check that out
okay...I looked over the NPR list. Looks like the votes weighted toward the "cosmopolitan sophisticate" end of things- (i.e., buncha non-Americans and outright furriners) with, if I might say so, a side helping of Metrosexuality.

Not my cup of Morning Thunder,personally, but thass their taste.

Youssou N'dour, Nusfet Ali Khan, that I applaud. But of the singers I have any acquaintance with- maybe half of them- I find most of the choices questionable.

No Charles Aznavour? Who'd they keep, to cut him?

Also: correction in my Top 25 list above-- I mistakenly put Keith Whitley on that disrespect, but I meant late & lamented Chris Whitley.

By way of compensation for that mistake: a 2002 Youtube clip of Chris Whitley, singing and banging on an old resonator guitar, solo in someone's living room. Sketchy sound, complete with a conspicuous lack of any studio trickery whatsoever, much less "pre-recorded vocal enhancement" (to whom it may concern: you know who you are. You sure ain't Chris Whitley.)