50 Great Voices Hear the stories of awe-inspiring voices from around the world and across time.

Freddie Mercury performs in 1980. Steve Jennings/Wire Image hide caption

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Freddie Mercury: Rock 'N' Roll's Humble Showman

The Queen frontman chose a stage name in perfect harmony with his voice. He could move from an earthy baritone to a wild but heavenly tenor, and he connected with huge stadium audiences. The world lost the vibrant musician in 1991 when, at 45, he died of complications from AIDS.

Freddie Mercury: Rock 'N' Roll's Humble Showman

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Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Voice Of Hawaii

The late Hawaiian musician known best for his ukulele-backed rendition of "Over the Rainbow" was a man with a standout voice and tremendous size. At more than 6 feet tall and weighing close to 1,000 pounds, "IZ" died when he was only 38.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Voice Of Hawaii

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Kitty Wells: The Queen Of Country Music

Starting in the 1950s, Wells recorded hit after hit at a time when women didn't have hits in country music. When she performed, Wells delivered the goods with a country twang and a supple, powerful voice that reached right to the back of the house. She died Monday at the age of 92.

Kitty Wells: The Queen Of Country Music

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Lauryn Hill performs in January in Sydney, Australia. Brendon Thorne/Getty Images hide caption

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The Many Voices Of Lauryn Hill

Hear an interview with the singer and rapper whose voice is the story of the hip-hop generation.

The Many Voices Of Lauryn Hill

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Donny Hathaway. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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Donny Hathaway: Neglected Heart Of Soul

The writer-producer-arranger had a voice that was clear and powerful, and his piano-playing is remarkable in its own right. Although Hathaway is perhaps best known for his duets with singer Roberta Flack, the body of work he left behind when he died 30 years ago is part of the bedrock of American soul music.

Donny Hathaway: Neglected Heart Of Soul

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George Jones Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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George Jones: The Voice Of Heartbreak

Country music legend George Jones, who died today at 81, made a career out of turning hard living into heartbreaking songs. He could pull and bend notes until they made listeners hurt. In 2010, Jones told NPR's Melissa Block, "I try to live the song during that three minutes."

Janis Joplin Tucker Ransom/Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Janis Joplin: The Queen Of Rock

Her voice was rough around the edges and unmistakable. Joplin sang the blues, and she subjected herself to them. She was vulnerable, and she was a pioneer for women in rock.

Janis Joplin: The Queen Of Rock

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Icelandic singer Bjork is as famous for her eccentric outfits as she is for her transcendent voice. Bernhard Kristin/ILC hide caption

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Bjork: A Celestial Voice

The singer, as widely known for her eccentric outfits and behavior as she is for her voice, is easily the most famous Icelander in the world. Inspired by childhood adventures walking among lava fields, Bjork's music is full of stories about pitch-dark forests and tiny sparks that live within them. Her music may prove challenging to listen to, but there are always moments of beauty and transcendence.

Bjork: A Celestial Voice

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Ella Fitzgerald had not one sad edge to her voice. She always had listeners smiling by the second note. George Konig/Hulton Archive hide caption

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Ella Fitzgerald: America's First Lady Of Song

In the 1930s and '40s, band singers were mostly blond, sophisticated and attractive. Ella Fitzgerald was awkward, gawky and even a bit chubby by comparison — but could she sing.

Ella Fitzgerald: America's First Lady Of Song

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Celia Cruz: The Voice From Havana

The Cuban singer, known worldwide as the "Queen of Salsa," grew up in neighborhoods where music was always in the air. She traveled for 15 years with the Sonora Matancera orchestra and settled in Fort Lee, N.J., home base for a decades-long career.

Celia Cruz: The Voice From Havana

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Khaled performs in London in 2008. Philip Ryalls/Redferns/Getty Images hide caption

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Khaled: The King Of Rai

Algerian singer Khaled is known internationally for singing rai — a kind of North African music with roots in traditional folklore. Taken literally, rai translates to "opinion," and Khaled has taken that idea to heart. Although his music won him enemies among Algeria's Islamic fundamentalists in the 1980s, he continues to use his voice to spread a message of peace, love and personal freedom.

Khaled: The King Of Rai

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Radmilla Cody and her grandmother, photographed in 2006. John Running/Courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian hide caption

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Radmilla Cody: Two Cultures, One Voice

Her mother was Navajo, her father African-American. Now, she sings traditional songs in the language of her Native American ancestors -- with more than one twist. Cody lends her soulful, bluesy voice to speak out against domestic abuse.

Radmilla Cody: Two Cultures, One Voice

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Buika: The Voice Of Freedom

Born and raised on the Spanish island of Mallorca, Buika has a voice that radiates intensity, with a power that's hard to define. Whether she's singing flamenco, soul, electronica or the blues, she says she finally feels completely free to sing whatever she wants.

Buika: The Voice Of Freedom

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Jackie Wilson inspired singers ranging from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson. Tom Copi / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images hide caption

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Jackie Wilson: The Singer And The Showman

Jackie Wilson was a singer's singer — admired by everyone from Elvis Presley to Van Morrison to Michael Jackson. His awe-inspiring falsetto powered 15 Top 10 R&B hits. But his stage show could make your jaw drop.

Jackie Wilson: The Singer And The Showman

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Twinkie Clark combines artistry and ministry in her music. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Twinkie Clark: Riffing On Gospel

Clark sings like John Coltrane played: Her notes are clear and clean, her phrasing and timing exquisite. Many know her as the leader of The Clark Sisters and as a master organist, but Clark's voice is the sum of many parts.

Twinkie Clark: Riffing On Gospel

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The Notorious B.I.G.'s first rap name was MC CWest. Bad Boy Entertainment hide caption

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Biggie Smalls: The Voice That Influenced A Generation

The rapper died when he was only 24 years old. He only released two albums, yet he's one of the most revered, emulated and biggest-selling rappers in the game.

Nat King Cole at the piano in 1951, the year "Too Young" was a huge hit. Hulton Archive / Getty Images hide caption

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Nat King Cole: An Incandescent Voice

What defined Nat King Cole's greatness, and his groundbreaking success, wasn't his piano playing; it was his voice.

Nat King Cole: An Incandescent Voice

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Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae

The great Bob Marley called Dennis Brown the best reggae singer in the world. The name "crown prince" stuck with Brown for much of his 30-year career, but his fans say he ranks second to no one. He cut his first hit when he was only 11, and over the next three decades recorded more than 75 albums packed with hits.

Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae

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Iggy Pop: The Voice As Weapon

His isn't the first name you'd expect to see on a list of great voices. But when you think of voice in the broadest sense of the word — a person communicating an idea with an audience — then Iggy Pop more than holds his own. He's proved that a voice doesn't have to charm or seduce someone; it can provoke. A vocal can be dangerous.

Mahalia Jackson sings at a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in May 1957. Paul Schutzer; Time & Live Pictures/Getty Images hide caption

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Mahalia Jackson: Voice Of The Civil Rights Movement

The gospel singer was born about 100 years ago in New Orleans, and when she was 16, she traveled the well-worn path up the Mississippi to Chicago. Beginning in the 1940s, she was one of the first singers to take gospel out of the church, drawing white audiences and selling millions of records. In the process, she inspired generations of singers.

Mahalia Jackson: Voice Of The Civil Rights Movement

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Sezen Aksu, a superstar in Turkey, writes lyrics that capture the muddle of human emotion. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Sezen Aksu: The Voice Of Istanbul

A superstar in Turkey, Aksu is known throughout the Middle East and Europe. She's been a sexy pop star, but she's also reinvented herself throughout her career, selling millions of records in the process. Neva Grant recalls discovering Aksu's music for the first time.

Sezen Aksu: The Voice Of Istanbul

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Asha Bhosle: The Voice Of Bollywood And More

Bhosle has recorded 12,000 songs and is featured on the soundtracks of more than 800 films. Her voice is easily recognized by a billion people in South Asia and around the world. Her influence has extended far beyond India, too: She's recorded with the boy band Red Code, the contemporary classical Kronos Quartet and even pop star Boy George.

Asha Bhosle: The Voice Of Bollywood And More

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More than 30 years after her death in 1977, Maria Callas' voice continues to thrill and divide fans and experts. EMI Classics hide caption

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Maria Callas: Voice Of Perfect Imperfection

The late, great opera diva's sound could sometimes be hollow and dark, sometimes shrill, sometimes gorgeous. Callas continues to thrill and divide audiences with her distinctive voice and the raw intensity she put into it.

Listen Now

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Tenor Enrico Caruso (circa 1910) as Pagliacci. Getty Images hide caption

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Enrico Caruso, And Confessions Of An Operaholic

An NPR Music producer recalls how a single singer from a bygone day triggered his love of opera. Once he heard the warmth and power of tenor Enrico Caruso's voice, he had to hear more.

Enrico Caruso, And Confessions Of An Operaholic

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