Vocal Impressions: Hearing Voices

Read the Descriptions

Click here to read listeners' descriptions of the voices of Morgan Freeman, Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and Patsy Cline.

Several years ago, I had that last, long, wonderful father-and-daughter time as we went to look at colleges in the Northeast and decide which one had the most expensive landscaping.

Along the way, I put in a mix tape. The first cut on it was Ella Fitzgerald. I didn't know how familiar my daughter was with Ella Fitzgerald, but I asked, "How would you describe her voice?"

She listened some more and replied, "She sounds like ... diamonds dipped in caramel."

I thought, "Wow! High school certainly worked."

And it reminded me that Mel Torme's voice was described as "the velvet fog" and that actress Jean Arthur's voice was described as sounding like, "a thousand tinkling bells."

Which led me to this idea:

I'd like to invite the listeners of All Things Considered to take part in an experiment on how different voices sound to you — and what words you would use to describe them.

Listeners' Responses

Updated Jan. 15, 2007

Reading your vocal descriptions of Morgan Freeman, Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and Patsy Cline has been fascinating. I commend your passion, thoughtfulness, poetry and humor.

Here are the ways in which you, the listeners, described these distinctive voices.


Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman
M.J. Kim/Getty Images

Morgan Freeman's voice brought to mind front porches, rocking chairs, brandy, sandpaper, the fireside, walnuts, grandfathers and the voice of our conscience.

"A lion gargling with pebbles" — Susan Sullivan

"Wagner being played by a garage band" — Douglas McConatha

"The way 'Old Spice' smells" — Jason Mathew

"What rich river-bottom soil feels like" — Elizabeth Libby

"A voice too tired to hurry and too powerful to slow down" — Andy Mullins

"A wet velvet suit drying in the sun" — Jesse Levy

"Hash browns being grilled in olive oil" — Bill Isenberger

"A silk trombone" — John Josh Halpern

"The earth" — Jane Cappola

"The scruff of Dad's beard" — Collette McGruder

"Darth Vader's brother" — David Neroda

"The perfect pie crust" — Donna Hartmen

"God in the rhythms of the Kodo Drummers" — Kathryn Aquilor


Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe's voice evoked cotton candy, smoke, wind, lollipops and velvet.

"A voice that would slow down a hummingbird in midair" — Linda Larson

"The steam rising from a souffle" — Ken Bolinsky

"The slow folding and unfolding of a pink cashmere sweater" — Andrea Huske

"A voice to make a 7-year-old boy think differently about girls" — Bill Malvitz

"A voice that doesn't reach the eardrum as much as the neck, the cheek and the more prominent parts of the ear" — Andy Mullins

"Champagne lava" — Jeff Moore

"A taffeta petticoat under a ball gown" — Nancy Julian

"The wind in the tree on a moonlit night" — Madison Willey

"On a good day, Marilyn Monroe sounds like a still-warm satin slip being tossed into the hamper; on a bad day, it's the same slip after a week in the hamper" — Lizzete Cantres

"Champagne foam coming out of a balloon" — Liza Murphy


Truman Capote

Truman Capote
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Author Truman Capote reminded listeners of kazoos, a whole menagerie of small animals, sock puppets and ingesting helium.

"That little spot on your upper back you can't reach when it itches" — Lynda Briere San Souci

"A cat trussed up in a corset" — Kristin Lim

"A screen door spring" — Jennefer Wright

"What was leftover after developing his other amazing talents" — Jack Reda

"Eggnog with too much whiskey" — Susan Surota

"Rubber bands rolled in pencil shavings and dropped in peanut butter" — Hallie Rumsey Lasersohn

"The little boy who didn't get the pony he wanted" — Kristin Lim

"An exasperated raven with a tension headache" — Scott Lien

"The sound of cyberspace" — Susan Lafond

"The barking at your mind's heels" — Robert Bragdon

"The twisted thoughts of barbed wire" — Nancy Barrett


Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline
Bureau L.A. Collection/Corbis

Country singer Patsy Cline's voice conjured up equal measures of love and longing.

"It warms the back seat of a Nash Rambler" — Linda Larson

"The voice of the moon courting a shy earth" — Justin Balsley

"The sound of swing, swagger and swoon" — Thomas Kimble

"The happiness right before heartbreak" — Cassandra Ramirez

"A smoky suede leather jacket forgotten in the closet" — Terry Ellertsen

"Slipping back into a warm bed on a cold morning" — Sarah Brown

"The feeling you get thinking of your lover during a long-distance drive" — Olivia Tyson

"God's voice coach" — Tom McGinty

"The ache for the tastes of childhood forever gone" — Brad Rudy

"A dawn breaking at the end of a day" — Mike Vale

"The unrequited love of a heartsick suspension bridge for the river that flows beneath it" — Susan Palamara

"The first kiss of your first love" — Michelle Pohlmeyer

"A red flannel shirt" — Sarah Greenleaf

"A thrush singing against the gloom of winter" — Kevin Tomczyk

"The voice of my guardian angel" — Mura Cello

"Practical magic" — Barbara Seese


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