Six simple criteria to determine who has the best voice

Who would you want to narrate your life or sing your life's theme song? These are some of the questions we asked when trying to decide who would make the initial round of 32 nominees for the Greatest Voice of All Time. Now it's your turn to decide what - in your eyes - makes a truly great voice. Cast your vote to help us name a winner.

Ever think about who you would want to narrate your life or sing your theme song? These are questions I’ve considered recently as World Voice Day approaches. In honor of this day, a few of us on the Communications team at Nuance put together a bracket in an attempt to identify the best voice – it nearly came to blows.

I kid you not, this was an undertaking fraught with peril. The term “best” is just too open ended and we didn’t want to put any restrictions on what that meant. As we debated various voices, and without meaning to, I created the following six criteria to identify who I felt was worthy of inclusion:

  1. Who I want to narrate my life – The voice has to have gravitas, be capable of humor, and engage the listener. Yes, I am looking at you Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Tom Brokaw, Ricardo Montalban, Hugo Weaving, and Vincent Price (for those of a more nefarious bent).
  2. Who I want to sing my theme song – The list definitely needs singers. My problem is I have no singing voice and am in awe of anyone who can carry a tune. This makes it difficult for me to differentiate whether Beyoncé or Madonna has a better voice. I need artists who stand apart from the crowd, who have range and power, and who I am familiar with and like – talk about subjective. Frank Sinatra, Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley meet this criteria and made our final list. Other voices that I would add include Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Whitney Houston (best rendition of our national anthem ever).  (Note: doing a bracket of just singers is a whole other kettle of fish. Rolling Stone has a discussion the Top 100 Greatest singers for those of you who want to explore that topic)
  3. Separate the voice from the fame – Just because someone is well known (Will Farrell, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Will Smith), or delivered an iconic speech (RFK, MLK) it doesn’t mean they have a great voice.
  4. Being distinctive is not enough – Gilbert Gottfried, Fran Drescher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Williams and Dr. Ruth all have distinctive voices, no doubt about it. However, the only list of voices I would include them on would be those most likely to make my ears bleed. Combine distinctive with attitude, longevity and delivery and you get classic voices like Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Howard Cosell, Kathleen Turner, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe.
  5. The Hall of Fame has it right – Hall of Fames are about an inductee’s body of work and contributions to his/her craft. Before inducting an individual or anointing someone the next best thing, we need to let him/her have a career to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Under the guiding principle of the Hall of Fame, I eliminated all young talent such as Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, John Legend or Lorde who may be hot now, but haven’t stood the test of time yet. If readers want to rename Criteria #5, or this entire post, the “old-man-yelling-at-kids-for-playing-on-his-lawn” criteria, I can’t really argue other than to say, “Get off my lawn!!!”
  6. The voice is the star – There are some individuals who made a career on the strength of their voice alone, to the point where we recognize their voice, but may have no idea who they are. Under this category, I lobbied hard for folk like John Facenda (voice of NFL Films), Don LaFontaine (movie trailers), Casey Kasem (American Top 40 and Shaggy), Michael Winslow (sound effects guy from Police Academy movies) Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime and Eeyore), Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Russ Leatherman (MoviePhone voice) and Elwood Edwards (“You’ve got Mail!”). I also include Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in this category. These voices are just too well known around the world to omit.

So now you know what my list of 32 looks like and how I got there. What was fun about the team exercise is that people brought their own criteria and passion to the discussion. As you think about the Greatest Voice of All Time, what criteria do you use and who do you think should be on the list?


Read more posts on World Voice Day:

The Greatest Voice of All Time: Let the games begin



Kelby Troutman

About Kelby Troutman

As communications manager for the Imaging division, Kelby oversees internal and external communications for the division including public relations and analyst relations. As a homeowner and father of two active small boys, Kelby spends his free time mourning the loss of his free time.