The Forgotten Voices of Jazz

Jazz has been present for more years than anyone can tell, with its melodies that reach the depths of the soul, intense lyrics, interpreted by mournful, hurtful and dreamy voices, there is nothing else to do but surrender to its spell.

A loud history of female voices has contributed to the genreā€™s sense of desolation, of bitterness, of background music for the most heartfelt drunken nights. It’s hard to talk about female voices in jazz without mentioning the names of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday among other great interpreters of the genre.

But, what about those voices that are hardly spoken of, and marked a before and after in the genre? Let’s talk and pay a small tribute to those voices, to the women who set the lyrical bases of jazz and who seem to have been forgotten today. Let’s meet them!

Bessie Smith

Although she is popularly known as a blues singer, her influence in jazz was impressive and besides she was a major source of inspiration for the -more famous- jazz singer, Billie Holiday. She was native from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and started in the world of music as a way to support her family.

When she was 12 years old, she went out to the street to sing accompanying her brother, who played the guitar. Her strong and determined nature drove her to pursue fame and go out into a world that people of color could not aspire to. An unmistakable voice that transmits like nobody the suffering and the struggle of the historical moment that she had to live.

Eva Cassidy

Her powerful voice is capable of transmitting the feeling and sorrow of her lyrics to another person, her chanting feeling is said to be able to put gooseflesh and cause a lump in the throat. This is probably the best way to describe the spectrum of emotions unfolded by listening to Eva Cassidy.

This Irish queen, with influences from Soul and Blues, has made a well-deserved space in the Jazz scene to herself, with declared admirers of the size of Roberta Flack. And no wonder here, it’s one of those voices that genuinely scratch the heart in an indescribable way and make a chill run through the body. As a curious fact, despite her many recordings and concerts, Eva had terrible stage fright, and very often this caused her not to bring out all her potential to shine.

Ma Rainey

It’s necessary going back till 1920, to find the woman better known as the “godmother of blues”. She wasn’t the first woman to give voice to this genre but, she was the first to record her music as she did the leap from the street blues to the recording studio.

Stubborn and free are frequently used keywords in an attempt to describe the power of her voice. And it’s that she was like that, imposing with her voice and stage skills. But, the most important thing is that she made the public, especially the black people, experience the freedom to express anger without fear, in a world dominated by whites.

Betty Carter

Probably one of the most innovative vocalists in the history of jazz, linked almost permanently to the avant-garde jazz and with a constant tendency to improvisation, her songs at the beginning may seem a bit odd, unconventional in their melodic structure. But that’s where lies her magic and dominance of technique. Nobody does it like her.