I recently found myself at a bar in NYC screlting along to Beyonce and dancing my face off with a few friends. (Screlting? The combination of screaming and belting. It’s a fine art form perfected by years of post secondary operatic training. Useful on roadtrips, 1980’s power ballad sing-alongs, and at gay bars). I remember saying to my friend that, “Beyonce is amazing! A true diva. I really think she’s one of the best of our generation.” My friend replied, “Absolutely! Beyonce is on that list for sure….and so is ROZ JONES!!!” Shortly after that, the bar started singing (screlting), “Who runs the world? ROZ. Who runs the world??? ROZ!!” I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.
I hear people say diva all day long in my profession. Unfortunately, it usually carries negative connotations, but I’m trying to promote a new perspective of the word. For me, diva is a term of strength. It describes someone who has confidence in what they bring to the table, and isn’t afraid to share it. Someone who works hard for what they want, and keeps their head down and their eye on the prize. A diva is someone who knows that they can’t please everyone all the time, but stays true to themselves and their passion. They know that what they have inside and what they want to share with the world is enough. A real diva is never anyone but her(him)self, which will sometimes get her into trouble but that doesn’t slow her down.
It got me thinking about my list of divas. The legendary kind of grand divas who are/were fearless and determined, and who paved the way for baby divas in training. The divas who have influenced my life, and shaped who I am as a musician and human. There is no way to narrow it down to only a few, and no way to please everyone here. Anytime someone makes a list, there is backlash and debate, but this is MY humble opinion. You may disagree, or you may think I’ve left someone out but guess what folks? It’s MY list! (insert snarky baby diva snaps)
In no particular order, here is the TOP TEN MOST INFLUENTIAL DIVAS OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD LIST EXTRAVAGANZA!!!! (according to Roz):
1. Mariah Carey
I could write a book about my love for this woman. She is completely unparalleled when it comes to raw talent and complete diva-ness. There isn’t anything this woman has done musically that I don’t completely love. Am I a member of the official Mariah Carey Fan Club? Absolutely. Do I commemorate her birthday with an all day Mariah Listening Party? Uh…..totally. PLUS…her mom is an opera singer. I feel like we’re connected. Not in a weird creepy stalker way, but I just think we’d have a fun ladies-who-lunch date. I never understood why Nicki Minaj was even trying to compete with Mariah on the most recent season of American Idol. It’s like comparing a beautiful hand crafted leather Italian handbag, and a tacky pair of pleather pants. Yes, pleather. Plastic leather. Oof. There isn’t one song I don’t know by heart and I have been known to listen to both of her Christmas albums in the middle of Summer. Want a mid-summer Mariah and Mom pick me up? I thought so. You’re welcome.
2. Patti LaBelle
Mariah’s unofficial Godmother is one of the best performers I’ve ever drooled over. You think opera singers might be high maintenance backstage? Patti has more costume and wig changes in the span of one show than Beyonce at the Oscars. Why wouldn’t she? She’s Patti LaBelle! She can do what she wants and I will stand up and cheer. If you haven’t seen Patti LaBelle LIVE! One Night only from The Manhattan Center, don’t walk, SPRINT to get your hands on a copy. Now. The first time I heard her sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” I nearly went into cardiac arrest. Take an aspirin, make sure your pace maker is working, and then watch this:
Keep in mind that this is her second encore of her 2-hour show and she seems to be completely unstoppable. Also, she tosses her mic stand into the crowd, and then seamlessly morphs into her 3rd encore. At that point, I’m standing and throwing furniture and sobbing like a maniac. Seriously. Don’t watch this with me in the same room as you. You won’t hear any of her singing. You’ll hear me yelling at Patti that I love her. Also, have you ever seen a diva carry as many flowers or rock jewels and gowns like her? No. Patti wins.
3. Anna Tomowa-Sintow
Talk about grand divas. She is a how-to manual on how to kick ass at singing opera. She has poise, grace, and an inimitable depth of tone and presence. Plus, she has those cheek bones! Good LORD she is a beautiful creature. There isn’t anything she has sung that I am not completely obsessed with. Of the 8,000-ish views on this YouTube link, at least 800 of them are mine. Enjoy operatic singing at its absolute best, and try not to pee your pants. I have failed at that a few times while experiencing the great A.T.S.
4. Leontyne Price
There just isn’t anyone on earth who has epitomized beauty of tone, grace, endurance, strength and poise as much as Ms. Price. I can’t watch this clip without weeping like an idiot, and if you don’t break down in sobs or at least have a body full of goosebumps by the end of the UNENDING ovation, then you’re not a human. This clip is from her Farewell Performance of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. For me, it is the combination of pride, humility, elegance, gratitude and sheer strength of character and artistry that she shares with the world that will make her one of the most important musicians of her generation.
The queen of comic timing, quirkiness, and all around fabulousness, this woman has had a place in my heart since I saw her on the Muppet Show. (When are they going to bring that TV show back? Come on Tina Fey…I feel like she should get that going!) There is just something about her that I am drawn to. Everything she does, I love. She is a magnetic performer, an awesome singer (she sang opera too!), and someone who was taken from us too soon. One of her most famous roles, and my go-to favorite when I need a giggle? I never get tired of this one…
6. Dolora Zajick
The loudest thing I have ever heard in my life, is Dolora singing Il Trovatore three feet from my face. I felt like I had to work to remain vertical. I also felt like I was whispering next to a freight train. She’s THAT loud. The sheer power of her voice punches you in the face and then you get back up and beg her to please punch you again. Despite what her sound may lead you to think, she is one of the gentlest, kindest, most sincere people on Earth, with a genuine drive to help and nurture the future opera singers of the world. She is a force of nature. A very strong, all encompassing and throw you on the floor force of nature.
7. Nancy Hermiston
My voice teacher, mentor, friend and constant source of inspiration. This woman does the work of 10 full time people. She is Head of the Voice and Opera Division at the University of British Columbia, a voice teacher, a director, the University Marshall (I call her the Marschallin for all you fellow Rosenkavalier dorks out there), and she runs a zillion Guilds, Committees, Opera Tours, and who knows what else. I literally can’t keep up with her, and she’s 5 foot 2 in heels. I asked her once how she went into so many meetings with so many powerful, intimidating people and always got her way. She said, “I wore my power colours! Black, red and/or white. I wear those colours and I can take over the world!” If you hear the quick paced clickety clack of heels, and see two piercing blue eyes staring you down in a flurry of red and black (if you’re really in trouble…she’ll pull out the black leather pants), you better watch out. Literally. Get out of her way. Despite her scary power colours, she is generous, loving, and has an unending willpower to further the education and careers of her students. She constantly puts her students first and I am forever in her debt for building, nurturing, and guiding my career.
8. Judith Forst
A close tie with Nancy (for me), is this Canadian diva. Judi is the hardest working singer I’ve ever known. She is vigilant about the way she studies and maintains her voice and her musicianship is unparalleled. I once asked her what the key to a long career in opera was and she replied without missing a beat, “A sensible pair of shoes.” I didn’t really know what she meant until more recently. Yes, you need comfy shoes to endure hours of staging rehearsals and to walk around cities you might not be familiar with while away working. However, I know now that what she really meant was that this is a LONG HAUL. You better not be wearing ridiculous platform heels when you’re soldiering on through this career. You better have sturdy, supportive, and sensible shoes to make sure you can just keep walking. Whatever happens, just keep moving forward. I don’t know if she meant to be so philosophical when she told me that, but that’s what I’m taking from it now that I feel I know everything at age 33. Haha.
9. Judy Garland
I can very easily spiral into a vortex of Judy Garland YouTube clips. One second it’s 7pm and I’m trying to think of something to do on a Sunday evening and the next second it’s 3am and surrounded by Kleenex, empty diet coke bottles, and completely engulfed in my bed-nest blanket cave. There isn’t anything I can say about this woman that can’t be seen in this clip where she appears with two other ladies who should be on this list but I simply don’t have the space. I had to choose. I chose Judy.
10. Pilar Lorengar
Do you know how hard this is?? I can barely pick 20, let alone 10. However, no list of mine is complete without this woman. Some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in my lifetime and I’m pretty sure she’s wearing a (nearly) cheek-to-toe mumu in this clip, which I am totally envious of. There is something about the quality of her voice that makes me just melt. Also, Richard Leech deserves an honorary diva award for his performance here. Get it, buddy.
11. Shirley Bassey:
Whatever. I picked 11. Like I said, it’s my list and singers can’t count anyways, right? What diva list would be worth its weight in sparkly jewels without Ms. Bassey? A fellow Welsh girl, Shirley is the definition of diva. A real belter (screlter), with endless range and unending stage presence.
A colleague once said to me, “Roz, your voice could eat my voice.” Well, Shirley’s voice could eat my voice and your voice and then ask for seconds. I don’t think there will ever be anyone like her ever again. That’s what a real diva should be right? An original who is in a class of her(his) own. On that note, I think I’ll explode into a cloud of glitter and diamonds and watch my divas until the sun comes up.