I just saw Gladys Knight in concert for the first time. She has long been one of my absolute favorite voices. I’ve had a crush on her since before I really understood what that meant and it has always been all about that voice. During the show, I found myself wondering what makes her voice so special.
One statement I hear a lot is, “So and so can really sing.” It’s usually made about pop singers, especially pop singers who have been over-produced. I’ve always found it to be a strange statement, though. One reason is that the statement is being made about a professional singer. Of course she can sing. Another reason I find it odd is that it’s a pretty low bar to set. While I appreciate technical ability, when it comes to singing, it’s a fairly common talent. Stop in any high school or church in the country and there’s a good chance you’ll hear more than one person who can really sing. What separates the truly great voices from everyone else?
At the Gladys Knight show, there were three backup singers and they were great. Not only did they hit all the notes and sing in rhythm, they had real power behind their voices. Ms. Knight gave them each an opportunity in the spotlight, and it was impressive. I’d have paid money to see any of the three in concert. But it just wasn’t the same as when Gladys Knight was singing. I don’t want to say they were missing something, because they weren’t. I guess Gladys Knight just has something extra.
I think that extra thing comes down to timbre. It’s not the notes or the rhythms she sings, it’s the sound of her voice. There are just a chosen few who are blessed with a better instrument than everyone else. We are lucky that those who have the gift record and perform so we can share in it. Gladys Knight can really sing, but it’s so much more than that. By sharing her voice, she has made the world a better place.