The Voice is a title that has been given to exceptional singers.
There’s US country singer-songwriter Vern Gosdin. Dubbed the Voice for his deeply expressive baritone, Gosdin’s number-one hit songs include I Can Tell By the Way You Dance (1984), Set ‘Em Up Joe (1988) and I’m Still Crazy (1989). Between 1976 and 1993, Gosdin recorded forty-one hit songs and eight albums. Gosdin died in Nashville in 2009.
British-Canadian, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Rodgers, who has been hailed as one of the greatest rock singers of all time, is also known as the Voice.
Rodgers has performed as a soloist and also as the lead vocalist in numerous bands, including Free, Bad Company and the Firm. Rodgers was recognised for his outstanding contribution to British music with the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award.
Variously referred to as the “Chairman of the Board”, “Ol’ Blue Eyes” or “Swoonatra”, Frank Sinatra has been crowned the Voice, as well, and with respect, it seems to me that his claim is much stronger than either Gosdin’s or Rodgers’. Before writing this article, I had never heard of Gosdin or Rodgers (which may not mean much as far as music fans go).
Many years after his death in 1998, Sinatra, on the other hand, remains a star. Known internationally for signature songs such as That’s Life, New York, New York, Strangers in the Night and My Way, Sinatra’s voice is widely recognisable and universally acclaimed.
Vern Gosdin, Paul Rodgers and Frank Sinatra aside, In Australia, the Voice surely refers only to former Australian of the Year John Farnham.
Released in 1986, You’re the Voice, from multi-award winning album Whispering Jack, was the highest-selling album in Australia by an Australian artist, elevating Farnham from pop singer to superstardom.
The Voice is also the name of a reality television show, a competition for singers, but it is the other Voice, or more correctly, the proposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament that is THE hot button topic in Australia today and for reasons totally unrelated to music.
Before we talk about THAT Voice, let’s clarify what having a voice means.
Voice is an utterance made through the mouth, as in speaking or singing. It is also an expression of opinion or attitude. Voice can also be an inner monologue, as in a voice in your head that can inform your decisions, jog your memory and advise you. Writers also have a voice. This is mine.
Individuals who are physically incapable of forming spoken words can still voice an opinion, or their thoughts, using sign language or a keyboard.
In that sense, almost everyone has a voice, but having a voice means more than having the physical wherewithal to speak, think and write. When those who can speak, think and write claim they have no voice, what they mean is nobody listens to them or that they are stuck in a space where nobody can hear them scream.
Getting back to music for a moment, the wonderful song by the Seekers, I am, you are, we are Australians, declares that we sing with one voice, but that could not be further from the truth.
While the internet and the emergence of social media have revolutionised communication, giving a voice to everyone who wants one, we are divided by identity politics and hang out together in echo chambers populated exclusively with like-minded individuals.
Where once we were proud to say “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, contemporary public discourse is marked by insults, furious disagreement and sometimes threats.
Sure, we can express our opinions online, make comments, set up our own blogs and self-publish our opinions, but woe betides the individual who darkens our day with a different point of view. Then, there is less chance of engaging in civil debate than in the Tower of Babel.
In public life, some voices are heard and are louder than others, which brings us finally to the proposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
Whether the majority of Australians heed the call and agree there is a need for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament remains to be seen.
However, whether a referendum succeeds or fails to create one, I know that it is impossible for us to sing in one voice -about anything. That much is clear. The best news is that, as Australians, we live in a time and a country, under a system of government where the majority holds sway and that’s a great place to be.