What Singers Can Learn from Doris Day

Doris Day in the studio
The overwrought and oversung nature of modern vocals can learn a thing or two from Doris -says Mister Tim.

An outstanding dancer, singer, and actress, Doris Day was one of the most popular entertainers in the 1950’s and 60’s.

She began her career as a big band singer in 1939 and went on to be the biggest female box office star for 2 decades.

She released more than 600 recordings and starred in a sitcom that ran for 5 years.

Her singing is clear, direct, sweet, and full of happy energy.

Her clean-cut sweetness earned her criticism in the 60’s and 70’s as those things fell out of fashion, but I find these attributes refreshing compared to the overwrought and oversung nature of modern female vocals.

Consider This:

Is that not what we all strive for as students of voice? To be so trained in the fundamentals that we don’t have to think about them, that we can just let go and express the music?

Some things to consider about Day’s singing: it sounds effortless, but she is an excellent technical singer.

Her breath control, her diction, her dynamic control are all flawless. Is that not what we all strive for as students of voice?

To be so trained in the fundamentals that we don’t have to think about them, that we can just let go and express the music?

She had a masterful command of the different colors in her voice. She could sing light or strong in any part of her range.

She constantly varied her delivery to tell wonderful stories. She sang every song as if she cared deeply about what she was singing. It’s no wonder she was such a revered actress.

Sentimental Journey (1945)

Day’s first major hit became a sort of theme song for American troops waiting to return from theaters of war. It astounds me how she can sound simultaneously joyful and melancholy.

Put Em in a Box (1948)

From her first starring film role, “Romance on the High Seas” (1948). Her singing is completely conversational and effortless. Listen to how she sings “put ‘em in a box” slightly different each time (0:44, 0:59, 1:29, 1:51, 2:40). The happiest anti-love song you’ll ever hear.

Everybody Loves a Lover (1958)

A seemingly simple song, but listen to how many vocal colors she explores throughout the song. Light and easy (first verse), stronger and belty (0:55), playful with a silly voice (1:17 + 1:45). She’s constantly changing. It’s like she is discovering and exploring the song for the first time along with us.

Sunshine Medley (1975) with John Denver

The tastiest of cheese! From a Doris Day television special (young singers should know that these kinds of shows were very common back in the day, and thanks to YouTube you can watch many of them). Day was more than 50 years old and still moving and singing with all kinds of pep. I never get tired of the way she closes her ‘n’s and ‘l’s (see 1:03). Also a great example of her versatility, each song getting it’s own vocal treatment.

This is the second part in our ‘What Singers Can Learn From’ series.
Previous: What Singers Can Learn From Otis Redding
Next: What Singers Can Learn From David Bowie


My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Janice Oliver Janice Oliver - The Man I Love

Delightful. Fantastic voice quality. You’ve got real skill. You make is sound easy.
I think you are not taking full advantage of the freedom this song is offering you. You can play more. Lengthen, shorten, vary the phrasing.
Connect things we wouldn’t expect connected, disconnect others. Depart from the melody, especially after the bridge. You are doing some things to make the song your own. Do more. Excellent work!


MisterTim02

Mister Tim www.mistertimdotcom.com is a published composer, award-winning recording artist, and in-demand performer, teacher & performance coach. In addition to an active performing and touring schedule with his solo vocal live-looping/beatbox shows, Mister Tim sings with Boulder, CO-based Celtic Rock band Delilah’s Revenge, manages the… Read More


  • Doris Day has been my singing idol from the age of 5 in 1949. To my mind, no-one comes even close to her for vocal “honesty” and passion. Emotion literally floods from her vocal chords.
    Having pointed out exactly the same observations made by Mister Tim, I am so pleased to see that he has given this space to one of the most deserving and accomplished singers we have been privileged to have known in our lifetime.
    Doris is now a very senior citizen who dedicates her life to animal welfare causes.
    Thank goodness humans were intelligent enough to invent the means through which the singing and on screen performances of the likes of the fabulous Doris Day have been preserved for posterity.
    For those reading this who have not got a clue as to who Doris Day is………..I understand.
    You have been drowned out of having to bother about our musical history by the plethora of commercialised music and Rap style jingoism (junk in my estimation)which has not only channelled your mind away from the past and the money from your wallets, but has also aided and abetted those who have sought to seemingly promote a “War between emotive singing and that which acts to undermine social standards and language use”.
    Thank the Lord for the On-off switch and the volume control !

    Find Doris on youtube.com and discover how society once used to highly regard wonderful, truly feminine women and why.

    http://www.allmusic.com/album/36-all-time-greatest-hits-mw0000528871

    Poppa

    ♯♪♫♂PM

    http://www.soundcloud.com/poppa-madison

  • Phillip Brandt

    Doris Day was a major triple threat…Excellent singer, very good actor, and a terrific dancer She could sing any kind of song and act any kind of part. The world loved Doris Day , and I still do. Not just good, but great. !

  • toughhombre

    Where do I start? Doris Day is in a supreme peer group of very very few: Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Toni Arden, Sarah Vaughan, Frances Langford, Nancy Wison, Karen Carpenter and several others. These were and are the gold standards of great singing among gal singers. Certainly there are the grand divas of Opera but we are talking about Pop and Jazz singers here. Today’s so called vocalists are more concerned with romping around the stage, doing those infernal horrible runs instead of sustaining long notes to exhibit a great voice, endless poor pitch leaving it up to the sound engineers to “re pitch” them on record. Voice quality has gone out the window in favor of “cute” nonsensical tunes and vocals. The fact is that the song quality is no longer there as the great composers and lyricists are all gone, the musical background is mostly synthesized or endless guitars. The great singers all had the great experience of being big band vocalists, going on the road night after night and developing projection and a backlog of the great classic songs. The so called “talent” shows of today are harvesting bad singers and making stars out of them only to be cast aside in the great milieu of a fickle teen public.

  • Mike DeVita

    Except for Ella, there really is no comparison (and Ella is 2nd to Doris, for me). No one does a better job on standards like “I Have Dreamed”, “Little Girl Blue”, “I Remember You”, “Day By Day” and a hundred others. To hear the true quality of her vocal range, check out “Take Me in Your Arms” and “Let It Ring” on youtube.

  • Poppa Madison

    Mike …. there actually is no comparison to Ella Fitzgerald, but not in the way you are intimating. Ella suffered from health and vocal afflictions which meant that on many occasions “The Ella you got yesterday was not the Ella you got today”. I followed Doris and Ella from the 1950’s and I speak from countless “man-hours” of listening to them both in all forms of media.
    Ella was more inclined to go for the early Jazz style songs, and in the main she did a pretty good job, mainly because of her “timing”. Much in the same way that “The Master” Frank Sinatra did with lyrics.
    However, Ella’s voice, often lacked drive, quality, tonality and smoothness and in that way her voice was quite unlike the always smooth, velvety svelte tones of the supreme singer that was Doris Day, I do recall on one occasion seeing a live performance by Ella, and she really had the best tone and smoothness of voice that I had ever heard from her. But that was a one-off to that particular degree to my ever open ears.
    Doris on the other hand, was always faultless vocally, and, just like her vocal maestro counterpart, Frank Sinatra, gave of herself on stage and in movies, the kind of dazzling performances that Ella could never even have hoped to have come near to. They were just two very very different artists and entertainers.
    Ella could not “entertain” a crowd…..but she could make them listen to her sing.
    When one looks at the legacy of a performing artist, one must always give credit to their overall list of credentials. Doris Day and Frank Sinatra created legacies of artistic performance across broad media such that it will remain forever in the annals of history.
    Ella had her talent and sometimes performed with excellence, and she had her following.
    But Mike, let’s face it……….Ella simply cannot compare to Doris Day, even though I find your own obvious posthumous personal favouring of her, to be admirable.

    “Whip Crack Away !”

    Poppa

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/poppa-madison/id588572062