Roger L. Simon

Barbra: To some she's number two, but she's not on my iPod

Despite her procrustean political views and Scrooge-like ticket prices, I think Barbra Streisand’s a more than decent old-fashioned Broadway singer and even a good, but very traditional, movie director. (Prince of Tides is a worthy film even though the star-auteur sports the longest fingernails in the history of psychiatry.)

But I had a good guffaw when I read the following in an Evening Standard review of her recent London concert:

Then, such is the magic of music and music sung by probably (if we forget Ella Fitzgerald) the 20th century’s finest female voice, before she had finished caressing the first line of the opening Starting Here, Starting Now, everyone had forgiven her everything.

Say what?

“The 20th century’s finest female voice”? Let’s be kind to the reviewer – one John Aizlewood – and assume he was referring to popular singers only and disqualify the likes of Callas, Sutherland, Sills, Tebaldi, Norman, etc. The thought of Streisand doing La Traviata sends me into a fit of giggles.

But even in the world of popular music, someone ought to give this British yahoo a giant doobie and make him listen to some music. He should start with Bessie Smith and go to Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton and Ruth Brown and Betty Carter and Etta James and Martha Reeves and… and… if he wants to go white, he should jump the channel to Edith Piaf or Melina Mercouri or Nina Pastori or… or… I could go on but you get the point. (What about Janis?-ed. Okay, Janis.)

And if you’re talking about Broadway singers, Streisand never came anywhere close to Ethel Merman when it came to belting out a song.

The problem with Barbra is that her heart often seems fake. (Compare that with Bessie Smith… or, for that matter, Callas… or Judy Garland!) As of now, Streisand’s not on my iPod and it’s an 80 gig one. At some point, maybe she will be. I’ve got a lot of room left to fill. But number two female vocalist of the 20th Century? Number 200 maybe… just maybe.

(What about Patti LaBelle?-ed. Score one for you, dude. Now there’s a potential number 2 to Ella.)

Feel free to post your top female singers below. It’ll be fun to see the list. But please – no Celine Dion. (What about Celia Cruz?-ed. Yes! Celia Cruz. My favorite. How could I forget?)