Husky, sensuous voices: we love hearing them, both in songs and in speech. What’s the appeal?
(NOTE: ‘Husky’ is not to be confused with “raspy”–that’s another article, ha.)
Well, studies have shown that “husky” speaking voices in both males and females are sexier and more universally appealing than a higher, squeaky or nasal voice.
Actress Kathleen Turner proved this point here almost 30 years ago:
The same goes for singing. It’s got something so… “yummy” that we love to listen to.
So, who comes to mind when we think of husky-voiced singers?
I say: Adele, John Mayer (who is husky and breathy…more on this, I promise), Annie Lennox, Cher, Michael McDonald and Elvis, for starters.
What gives voices this particular character, or color? And how do we create it?
So obviously, it’s a thicker-sounding voice, which sounds (and feels) like it’s resonating more from the back of the throat and lower sides of the jaw;
when I’m referring to a husky sound with my students, I use the phrase/concept dark.
Now, everybody’s voices are mixtures of all kinds of sonic nuances. If you want to hear huskiness at its finest, here’s vocal deity Michael McDonald live, unplugged and un-Auto-Tuned (listen from :16)
Wow. Even his falsetto is husky!
And, from what he said (yes, I’ve hung out with him and sang BGVs on his wife Amy Holland’s 2016 record, “Light On My Path”…that he sang on, too. I know. Whole ‘nother article.), he developed his style because he wanted to scream like the rockers he listened to in his youth (Mitch Ryder, etc.).
The problem was he couldn’t last playing five sets a night in the real-deal smoke-filled rock clubs of St. Louis, Missouri.
He had lots of other influences, among them Ray Charles. Michael wound up incorporating Ray’s style into his own, and a star was born…a star, mind you, that has never had any dire vocal troubles.
And then there’s….this guy. Go ahead. I’ll wait:
That’s some husk right there. Along with the corn…right? I’m here all week.
But seriously, folks, can you hear the dark quality of his sound? The way it hangs back.
There are husky-voiced women, too. Cher, Annie Lennox, one of my top five favorite singers, Mavis Staples (yaaaassss queen) and this gal; back in the Mesolithic era (or, as it’s also referred to, the 1980s), there was a band called Yazoo, fronted by an amazing vocalist named Alison Moyet.
She was a heavy smoker then, but behold these dulcet tones:
Oh, and let’s not forget this bombastic-voiced woman. Christina Aguilera has a throat of many colors (see what I did there?) but you can definitely find the husky here:
Try to find your own husky sound. Sing ‘DUH’ in the lower part of your register.
Feel how far back that vowel is placed in your mouth/palate. Then, sing ‘DAY’ in the lower part of your register.
Feel how much more forward that vowel is placed. So gently sing something with the ‘DUH’ vibe in mind and see how you do.
Voice teachers agree that raising the upper palate, opening the pharynx (throat) and lowering the larynx can create vocal depth and richness in a safe way, and that’s what you’re aiming to do…whether you sing huskily or not.
Still, you must make sure all the muscles that help support you when you sing (around your stomach, ribs and back) are fully engaged and super-supportive.
While you want support, nothing should feel tight when you’re singing in a husky voice…nothing, especially the muscles in your neck, jaw and the back of your tongue.
There’s a big difference between muscles being supportive and being tight, and you must understand the difference and find it for yourself.
Anyhoo, it’s a good idea to find yourself a good voice teacher (ahem) so you have guidance.
You’ll know if this person is a good voice teacher if they take care with this area:
Husky singing doesn’t have to strain muscles or damage your cords…but it can if you’re not careful.
This is why I stress getting a voice coach and work on having proper support, placement and technique.
If anything hurts…stop doing it! Use your judgment, and if you want to learn how to safely sing huskily/punk-y/belt-y/death-metal scream-y, get a teacher to help you.
Trust me, it’ll be worth every penny.
To sum up: singing with your own husky ‘effects’ may take practice for some of you with clear voices, but it can take you to another level with regard to emotional oomph and finding your sound.
You just want to make sure you don’t god to the ‘needing voice repair’ level, like Sam Smith, Cher, John Mayer, Adele, and many others.
So as I always say, take good care of your voice and it will take good care of you!
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com
Janine Le Clair
Gregory A. Barker