Soprano, mezzo or contralto?

by jgcorrea | created - 30 Aug 2012 | updated - 15 Dec 2018 | Public

As 'Laura's Blog' puts it so well, this is a common question which any singing teacher can take either 5 minutes or 5 years to answer properly. It depends on a number of elements, but significantly on (i) the range (notes of sufficient quality available to the singer; (ii) the timbre of the voice (texture and characteristics of the relevant your voice). Technically speaking: a soprano range is Middle C to high C, 2 octaves above (C4 to C6). A mezzo-soprano range is A3 to A5. A contralto range is F3 to F5. In pop music, however, a soprano is not required to sing the extreme notes found in classical music, but she will share the most common characteristics of the soprano, a light to medium weight, sweet agile voice, e.g. Beyoncé, Leona Lewis, Duffy, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. Soul and gospel singers tend to lend more weight to their voices, a common characteristic of the mezzo-soprano. Examples: Adele, ALicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Dinah Washington, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin and Jennifer Hudson. The contralto is the lowest female voice, often suited to jazz, with a deep, warm quality. Eg. Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughan, and Sade. It is important to bear in mind that a quality voice can often sing outside of its own voice category. For example, Aretha Franklin has sung many songs in a soprano key and many of Amy Winehouse’s songs are suitable for mezzo-sopranos. It depends on tessitura (tessitura is a judgement of where most the notes in a song lie e.g. high or low, or in the middle of the range). (Thank you, Laura's Blog)

1. Dionne Warwick

Soundtrack | Alive

Dionne Warwick was born on December 12, 1940 in East Orange, New Jersey, USA as Marie Dionne Warrick. She was previously married to William Elliott.

Sometimes a saccaharine mezzo, and sometimes a contralto

2. Patsy Cline

Soundtrack | Assassin's Creed

Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia. Her brush with show business came at age four when she won a prize in an amateur tap dancing contest. By the time she entered grade school, her family was fully aware of her musical talent. On her eighth ...

mezzo-soprano

3. Adele

Soundtrack | Skyfall

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins (born May 5, 1988) is a British singer-songwriter who has sold millions of albums worldwide and won a total of 15 Grammys as well as an Oscar. Adele's first two albums, 19 and 21, earned her critical praise and a level of commercial success unsurpassed among her peers. ...

Mezzo

4. Carly Simon

Soundtrack | All Good Things

Carly Elisabeth Simon was born in New York City, and was raised in its Riverdale neighborhood, with two sisters and a brother. Her father, Richard L. Simon, co-founded the Simon and Schuster publishing company, and played Chopin and Beethoven on the piano. Her mother, Andrea Louise (Heinemann), was...

contralto

5. Inezita Barroso

Actress | Ângela

Inezita Barroso was born on March 4, 1925 in São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil as Ignez Magdalena Aranha de Lima. She was an actress, known for Ângela (1951), O Preço da Vitória (1959) and Carnaval em Lá Maior (1955). She was married to Adolfo Cabral Barroso. She died on March...

Contralto

6. Yvette Giraud

Actress | Sirius symphonies

Yvette Giraud was born on September 24, 1916 in Paris, France. She was married to Marc Herrand and Jacques Plante. She died on August 3, 2014 in Strasbourg, Bas-Rhin, France.

contralto

7. Zarah Leander

Soundtrack | Das Herz der Königin

Beginning her acting-singing career in provincial Swedish theaters in 1929, she soon worked her way up to starring roles in Stockholm and Vienna. In 1936 she signed a contract with the Berlin film studio, UFA, despite her imperfect command of German. During World War II she became the highest-paid ...

Soprano

8. Marlene Dietrich

Soundtrack | Witness for the Prosecution

Her father was a police lieutenant and imbued in her a military attitude to life. Marlene was known in school for her "bedroom eyes" and her first affairs were at this stage in her life - a professor at the school was terminated. She entered the cabaret scene in 1920s Germany, first as a spectator ...

Contralto

9. Hildegard Knef

Actress | Jeder stirbt für sich allein

Hildegard Frieda Albertine Knef was born on December 28, 1925 in Ulm, Germany. In 1940, she began studying acting. Even before the fall of the Third Reich, she appeared in several films, but most of them were only released after the war. To avoid being raped by Soviet soldiers, she dressed like a ...

Ella Fitzgerald described Hildegard Knef as "the best singer without a voice." Her smoky, precise, sometimes impetuous nature, and her consistently soulful presentations of laconic, ironic texts made her a unique phenomenon in German pop music.

10. Léo Marjane

Soundtrack | The Quiet American

Léo Marjane was born on August 27, 1912 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais, France as Thérèse Maria Léonie Gendebien. She was married to Charles de Ladoucette and Raymond Gérard. She died on December 18, 2016 in Barbizon, Seine-et-Marne, France.

French contralto

11. Shirley Bassey

Soundtrack | Moonraker

Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, and raised in the nearby working class neighborhood of Splott. Her mother was originally from Yorkshire, and her father was a Nigerian seaman who left the family when she was less than two. She later helped to support her family by working in an...

Mezzo

12. Cleo Laine

Soundtrack | The Third Alibi

Cleo Laine was born on October 28, 1927 in Middlesex, England as Clementine Dinah Bullock. She was previously married to John Dankworth and George Langridge.

Astonishing contralto

13. Karen Akers

Actress | The Purple Rose of Cairo

Karen Akers was born on October 13, 1945 in New York City, New York, USA as Karen Orth-Pallavicini. She is an actress, known for The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Vibes (1988) and Hart to Hart (1979). She has been married to Kevin Power since September 16, 1993. She was previously married to James ...

Silky contralto

14. Florence Ballard

Self | Musik aus Studio B

Florence Glenda Wilson Ballard was born and grew up in Detroit. By the time she turned 15, her family moved to the Brewster-Douglas housing project, and Florence attended Northeastern High School, where she met and became friends with Mary Wilson. Ballard had always wanted to be a singer and ...

Florence was a soprano. However, she could sing low too and on many of her leads she sings in her chest voice in the contralto/mezzo-soprano range. Most recordings that feature her on backing have her singing the soprano (high) part.

15. Julie Andrews

Actress | The Sound of Music

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on October 1, 1935, in England. Her mother, Barbara Ward (Morris), and stepfather, both vaudeville performers, discovered her freakish but undeniably lovely four-octave singing voice and immediately got her a singing career. She performed in music halls throughout her...

Awesome soprano

16. Édith Piaf

Soundtrack | A Star Is Born

When one thinks of Edith Piaf, one thinks of love, sorrow and music. One did not breathe without the other two. Born in Paris practically on the streets on December 19, 1915, she struggled from day one, the daughter of street performers. The mother, a singer, eventually abandoned both Edith and her...

Legendary contralto

17. Carmen Miranda

Actress | The Gang's All Here

Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha on February 9, 1909, near Porto, Portugal, in the town of Marco de Canavezes. Not long after her birth her family moved to Brazil, where her father was involved in the produce business. The family settled in the then-capital city of Rio de ...

soprano

18. Judy Garland

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals.

She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in ...

Contralto

19. Sarah Brightman

Soundtrack | Repo! The Genetic Opera

Sarah Brightman's soprano voice has sold millions of records and been heard in arenas, cathedrals, and Olympic stadiums around the world. Brightman is the winner of more than 180 gold and platinum awards in 40 countries, and is a concert artist who has performed before millions of fans on every ...

Soprano

20. Joan Baez

Soundtrack | The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Joan Baez was the middle daughter of Albert Vinicio and Joan Bridge Baez. At age 10, her father took a job (and the family) to Baghdad, Iraq, for a year, after which they moved to Palo Alto, CA, home of Stanford University. In 1956, she bought her first guitar and heard Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ...

Soprano

21. Mina

Soundtrack | Goodfellas

Very famous Italian singer. In the sixties she had a love affair with actor Corrado Pani who was married to another woman at the time and gave birth to a son. Because of this she was banned from TV studios for many years. During the last 20 years she has not shown her face in public and has not ...

Soprano

22. Roberta Flack

Soundtrack | X-Men: Days of Future Past

Roberta Flack was born February 10, 1937 (1939 according to some sources), in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a small town located about 10 miles (18 kilometers) from the city of Asheville, North Carolina. She is best known for her love ballad "Killing Me Softly With His Song", released in 1969. ...

Soprano

23. Dinah Washington

Soundtrack | The Cable Guy

Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the former Ruth Lee Jones moved with her family to Chicago as a young girl. She considered the Windy City her true home. And it was there in early 1940s that a local nightclub owner provided her first gig - and a new name that she would make famous. By 1959 she had ...

Mezzo

24. Renate Müller

Actress | Walzerkrieg

Highly popular German star Renate Muller was the toast of late 20s Berlin along with the legendary Marlene Dietrich. Unlike Dietrich, however, she suffered at the hands of the Nazis and died under mysterious circumstances. Renate was born in Munich on April 26, 1906, the daughter of a newspaper ...

Soprano

25. Barbara

Actress | Aussi loin que l'amour

Barbara was born on June 9, 1930 in Paris, France as Monique Andrée Serf. She was married to Claude Sluys. She died on November 24, 1997 in Neuilly, France.

soprano

26. Mártha Eggerth

Actress | Das Hofkonzert

From the day she was born Martha lived in a world of music. For sure her father was a banker but he was also an amateur pianist. As for her mother, she was a housewife but also a very talented opera singer who had given up her career for the joys of matrimony and motherhood. It does not come as a ...

Soprano

27. Jeanette MacDonald

Soundtrack | Cairo

She was the third daughter of Daniel and Anne MacDonald, younger sister to Blossom (MGM's character actress Marie Blake), whom she followed to New York and a chorus job in 1920. She was busy in a string of musical productions. In 1928 Paramount tested and rejected her, but a year later Ernst ...

Soprano

28. Enya

Soundtrack | The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Eithne, the fourth youngest of nine children, comes from the small village of Dore (Dobhar in Irish) in the Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) region of County Donegal in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland. She now lives in Killiney, a coastal district on the southern outskirts of Dublin The family is ...

Mezzo

29. Aracy Cortes

Actress | Com a Mão na Massa

Aracy Cortes was born on March 31, 1904 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as Zilda de Carvalho Espíndola. She was an actress, known for Com a Mão na Massa (1953) and A Voz do Carnaval (1933). She died on January 8, 1985 in Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.

Soprano

30. Loreena McKennitt

Soundtrack | Soldier

Loreena McKennitt was born in Manitoba and began her music career peforming in a number of places including Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada before settling in Ontario. Her music was widely used in the TV series EZ Streets and is now heard in Roar.

Soprano

31. Mary Hopkin

Soundtrack | The Falling

Mary Hopkin was born in Pontardawe, Wales on 3 May 1950. In her teens she made some modest success as a Welsh folk singer until one day, on 4 May, 1968, one day after her 18th birthday, she appeared on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks (1956), a show which featured talented (and ...

Soprano

32. Christina Aguilera

Soundtrack | The Voice

Christina Maria Aguilera was born on December 18, 1980 in Staten Island, New York City to musician Shelly Loraine Fidler Kearns and U.S. Army sergeant Fausto Wagner Xavier Aguilera Monge. Her father is Ecuadorian and her mother, who is American-born, has English, Scots-Irish, and German ancestry. ...

Aguilera is a mezzo-soprano, having a vocal range spanning four octaves (from B♭2 to C♯7).

33. Yma Sumac

Soundtrack | Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Known for her astonishing 4 1/2 octave vocal range, Yma Sumac (AKA Ima or Imma Sumack) is from Ichocán, Peru, a town high in the Andes. From an early age she performed in radio and movies and made recordings throughout South America. She came to the United States in the 1940s and performed with a ...

Yma Sumac was the queen of exotica! Voice Type: Contralto. Vocal Range (B2 - C♯7)

34. Dalva de Oliveira

Actress | Pra Lá de Boa

Dalva de Oliveira was born on May 5, 1917 in Rio Claro, São Paulo, Brazil as Vicentina Paula de Oliveira. She was an actress, known for Pra Lá de Boa (1949), Samba em Berlim (1943) and Pif-Paf (1945). She was married to Herivelto Martins. She died on August 31, 1972 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

lovely light soprano

35. LeAnn Rimes

Soundtrack | Coyote Ugly

LeAnn started singing at age 3, and has sold over 20 million records since. She was born August 28, 1982 in Jackson, Mississippi. By age 7, LeAnn made her stage debut in a Dallas musical production of "A Christmas Carol". Later, she would sing "The Star Spangled Banner" to open Dallas Cowboys ...

vocal range D3 - Eb6

36. Bonnie Tyler

Soundtrack | Metropolis

Born on June 8, 1951 in Skewen, Neath, Wales. She first came to prominence in 1976 with the song, "Lost in France", which made the UK top 10. Following a throat operation, she inadvertently developed her distinct singing voice. She had a transatlantic top 5 hit with "It's a Heartache" in 1978.

She ...

Coming second in a talent contest inspired Bonnie Tyler to become a singer, but it wasn't until she damaged her vocal cords through sheer frustration that she developed her career-defining husky voice



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