This is a re-post of my note on FaceBook.
My late mother used to remark that some of her older relations clung to a superstition that deaths of prominent people often came in groups of three. Sad to say (and by complete happenstance), that old legend seems to have borne itself out in the past week.
One of our best sports commentators, Vin Scully, died on August 2, and he has been followed in recent days two of the finest female vocalists in popular music in English of the last 60 years. Australia's Judith Durham of the folk-inflected quartet The Seekers died on Friday, and news came today of the passing of American chanteuse Olivia Newton-John.
Those ladies shared, I think, two attributes in common that contributed greatly to their respective successes. First, Durham and Newton-John seemed to know implicitly what both their strengths and their limitations as vocalists were, rather more so I think than a lot of other singers who at some point in their careers attempt to venture across a musical bridge too far. Neither Durham nor Newton-John ever seemed to be straining or trying to shoehorn their voices into either a style or a range to which they were not suited. That's why I think their recordings were so listenable - even if you weren't overly fond of a particular song that they had recorded, you could not help but by impressed by both their vocal control and by their adjustments of what their voices could do with any tune that they decided to do.
Second, both Durham and Newton-John were acutely aware of HOW to deliver a lyric. Their tunes were mostly middle-of-the-road pop compositions - often from great writers like Tom Springfield and Burt Bacharach - with that aforementioned tinge of folkishness, but Durham and Newton-John always seemed able to take fairly ordinary compositions and make them feel significant by the honest emotion and thought that each brought to their lyrics. It is not as if the ladies tricked us into thinking that a bad song was good. Rather, it was that each was able to find the sublime in the ordinary, and songs that would have withered into nothing in the hands of lesser artists remain in our memories as Durham and Newton-John performed them precisely because these ladies found a resonance for themselves in those tunes, and their recordings brought those resonances home to millions of us.
I hope that when both neared their ends they were able to feel at least for a fleeting moment that they had succeeded in what they had set out to do - and knew in some way that their life's work would outlive them for a long, long time.
So - my favorite recording from each: