Patsy Cline, 12 Greatest Hits (1988)
I listened to this tape so many times in my Walkman, I actually ruined it. I was about 6 or 7, and didn’t realize I’d spend my entire life trying to create a similar buttery warmth and womanly tone. Her heart spills through, and nothing sounds contrived or put-on. My first time performing with a live band was when I sang “Leavin’ on Your Mind” on the Oklahoma Opry. I was 9, and I sounded ridiculous because I was trying to make myself sound just like Patsy. I even had my Mom make me an exact replica of Patsy’s outfit.
Another compilation CD, but by the time I got a hold of these artists, they’d already moved mountains. Like Patsy, Etta has this grit and soulful sound I admire and am drawn to. Her effortless and witty phrasing opened my ears to phrasing and texture. I covered “A Sunday Kind of Love” way before it was age-appropriate! “Fool That I Am” has always been my favorite. It’s so beautifully not oversung, and just makes you ache.
Ella Fitzgerald, The Complete Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (1993)
My brain almost exploded the first time I heard Ella do that scat on “How High the Moon.” This album made me realize there is more to singing than just singing pretty. Ella inspired me to use my voice as an instrument. She takes solos as well as a great instrumentalist, and there is honestly no reason we don’t all do it.
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
remember “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” was the only song I could
really wrap my little country mind around at first. As I matured
musically, I always returned to this album for inspiration. My single
“When You’re Out Tonight” was me trying to put more of my own harmony
and layers in, and didn’t even come close to Lauryn’s grasp on those
concepts. She layers so many harmonies, raps and thick melodies, and
completely pushed up the bar for women in the music industry. It’s still
so relevant; I hear new lyrics, swells or subtleties every time I
listen. This shit is heavy — excuse my French.
Betty Carter, The Audience with Betty Carter (1979)
She was an unbelievable band leader, and her arrangements are unparalleled. “My Favorite Things” was one of the songs I learned to sing before I could read. This album is another that helped change the way I thought about singing. Her voice is more than lyrics and pretty tone; it’s a real part of the band — a true instrument of excellent communication. The more I listened, the more I realized what incredible control Carter had. She knew exactly where she was, and moved around the melody lines with such ease and fluidness, never worrying about necessarily sounding “good” (although she always did), but just making the song the best it could be. She sings so selflessly and beautifully, all at the same time.