SALT LAKE CITY — Kimberly Knighton wants to start a YouTube channel imitating Julie Andrews. Instead of “My Favorite Things” or “A Spoonful of Sugar,” though, Knighton would sing current pop songs in that iconic Julie Andrews style.
Knighton, a vocal coach who lives in Orem, was raised on Andrews’ delightfully sweet vocal tone. And she, like the rest of us, will inevitably compare Emily Blunt’s forthcoming “Mary Poppins Returns” performance to Andrews’ Oscar-winning original.
Given the occasion, we interviewed some local voice coaches about what made Andrews’ voice so captivating.
“She often moves between speaking and singing. So she kind of has this lilt in her voice as she moves between notes — she’ll scoop the notes a little bit more,” Knighton explained. “She enunciates really well, especially the consonants at the beginnings and ends of her words.”
Andrews, she added, utilized vibrato at the end of her phrases, and avoided breathiness.
“Her sound was just sweet,” Knighton said. “It wasn’t necessarily powerful. But it was powerful because of the tone of her voice, more so than just volume. She wasn’t a belter.”
No, Andrews didn’t belt, but she did have a four-octave range. As a child, she performed onstage with her mother and stepfather, who were entertainers. And, less than a month after turning 12, Andrews made her professional solo debut. By age 19 she was performing lead roles on Broadway, and she worked in theater and television for another decade before her big-screen debut in “Mary Poppins” in 1964.
Those we interviewed mentioned Andrews’ seeming ease in all parts of her broad vocal range. It never sounded strained or difficult — though usually, it actually was pretty hard.
“Even in ‘The Sound of Music,’ she hit a high C at the end of ‘Do-Re-Mi,’” said Carol Ann Allred, a voice teacher and assistant professor/lecturer at the University of Utah’s School of Music. (Allred’s daughter, Loren, sings the popular song “Never Enough” in the film “The Greatest Showman.”)
“I love any place where Andrews gets to go up high,” Allred added. “I was always so excited about those moments. Whenever we get to hear her high range, it’s so inspiring to me to hear this freedom in her high range and the lightness and sweetness in her voice.”
Allred was a kid when “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” were released — “I just worshipped her,” Allred remembered — but for others, the introduction came later. Jen Marco, a voice teacher in American Fork, didn’t really get familiar with Julie Andrews until her adult years. (Marco’s father wouldn’t allow “The Sound of Music” in their home — he thought Captain von Trapp’s children disobeying him set a bad example.)
When she finally saw “The Sound of Music,” Marco recalled, “I wasn’t thinking about technique or pitch — I really liked the way that she made me feel as I was listening. When she’s saying, ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music,’ you could just tell that she was really relishing in that moment, to be out there singing on that mountaintop.”
Andrews’ graceful singing style could be deceptive that way: She sounds so conversational, it’s easy to forget the technical expertise behind it.
“It doesn’t really make a ton of sense until you actually try to sing the song. And then you go, ‘Oh my goodness, this is something else,’” Marco said.
People take for granted, she added, the kind of physical toll that singing can take. For Andrews, it eventually did. In 1997, Andrews had surgery to remove noncancerous nodules in her throat. The surgery didn’t go as planned, and Andrews lost practically all of her vocal range. Andrews sued for medical malpractice, and the case was settled in 2000.6 comments on this story
Dean Kaelin, a Utah-based vocal coach whose clients include former “American Idol” contestant David Archuleta, said the music industry’s approach to female singers changed in the years Julie Andrews rose to prominence. While Andrews’ voice was pure and sweet, singers like Barbara Streisand ushered in a new era — one that focused more on pure power. Pushing one’s voice, perhaps beyond its natural limits, became the norm.
“Some people are just born with it. Kind of like Michael Jordan,” Kaelin said. “That’s the nice thing about Julie Andrews is it was just so natural. Julie Andrews was almost the last of that kind of singer.”