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What Makes A 'Beautiful' Voice? Hear And
Examine Lauren Bacall's Sexy Purr And
Sterling Holloway's Comforting, Soft Sweetness

By Hannah Melbourn
Voice Actor

I want to touch on a couple of well known beautiful voices and think about what makes them so.

It was pretty hard to settle on just two, of course, because there are so many, and I could literally talk about this subject all day, but it seemed like a good place to start by going back to the golden age of Hollywood.

So lets take a look at one of the icons of 1940's glamour ...


When statuesque actress Lauren Bacall was first discovered by Hollywood producer Howard Hawks, the producer famously sent her to elocution lessons to train her to speak in a much lower register.

The loss of Bacall's natural, apparently quite high and nasal voice, was a move that would kick start a glittering film career.

Years later, Bacall is remembered foremost for her voice: a sexy throaty growl, sometimes described as a purr. 

In this clip from The Big Sleep (1946), in which Bacall starred alongside her future husband Humphrey Bogart, listen for her gorgeous velvety voice and see her move with such self confidence on screen.

It's hard to believe she is only 22 years old. 

What strikes me in this scene is how similar their voices actually sound.

Bogart, too, reportedly underwent vocal training to lower the register of his voice for his Hollywood roles. 

Clearly, deep voices were a Thing in Hollywood.


I found a scientific study on "vocal and physiological changes in response to the physical attractiveness of conversational partners" by Susan Hughes at the University of Baltimore, where she and her colleagues were looking for evidence to prove that higher pitched (more feminine) voices would be perceived as sexier.

However, they ultimately concluded that contrary to their predictions, females actually lowered the pitch of their voices when talking to attractive partners. 

This would be a point of interest in itself as it goes against what evolutionary science would presume to be the case, however the conclusion of the study states that "there appears to be a common stereotype in our culture that deems a sexy female voice as one that sounds husky, breathy, and lower-pitched." 

I couldn't help wondering then, if perhaps Lauren Bacall has had more of an effect on human evolution than she realised!

Interestingly, there is actually a vocal disorder known as BBS (Bogart Bacall Syndrome) - a form of vocal strain caused by forcing the voice to sound lower. The syndrome causes hoarseness, soreness and frequent breaking of the voice. 

So for anyone who is thinking of trying to replicate a little bit of that Bacall vocal magic, proceed with caution!


Next up I want to talk about a voice so distinctive that it will transport most of us straight back to our childhoods.

Perhaps at the sound of this voice you'll find yourself back in your living room snuggled up on the sofa on a Sunday morning, or remember how it felt to have a Disney film on in the background at Christmas with all the family around. 

Sterling Holloway (seen here on the right, with William Bendix) was an American actor (1905 – 1992) who voiced many characters for Disney.

His impressive list of credits include: Kaa the snake in Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, Mr Stork in Dumbo, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and Roquefort in The Aristocats

Often cast in comedy roles, Holloway's voice sits in an unusual place vocally; it feels neither high nor low.

Ostensibly, the voice sounds like it has a high timbre at first, but there are also cotton woolish, throaty base tones, that place it firmly as a male voice. 

Somehow his voice hangs in the air as almost ageless, and there's a soft sweetness to it, tipping over easily into a girlish giggle. 

Check out this clip from the movie Burke's Law (1964) and listen for his character Fisk's distinctive nervous little laugh.

What's lovely about Sterling Holloway's voice is the combination of familiarity and ambiguousness – there is something childlike and comforting about it, and it's almost genderless. All at once you can hear a kindly grandmother or a humble mouse or a bumbling hotel clerk. 

With a voice so unusual, it's no wonder he became such a beloved cast member at Disney. 

See these magical vocal qualities put to ill use as Kaa in the Jungle Book here.


So what makes a beautiful voice?

Authenticity is key, but in my opinion there's really no 'right' answer here.

The complex machinery that makes up the human voice has no end of variation, and that's what is so amazing about it - that every one is unique. Every now and then you come across those voices that have a little bit of magic in them, and the challenge is really to work out why, and even harder, to put that into words. 

As Emily Dickinson famously said, "The heart wants what it wants."

There are so many more examples of beautiful inspiring voices that I might just have to write another one of these – please do let me know in the comments if you have any real favourites and why. 


What do people say about your voice?

Whatever you are working on in the booth today, just remember there is only one voice like yours, and that's why your clients love you!

So don't force it, be yourself, and be authentic.

However you sound - high, low, sexy or not - it's all part of your unique sound. So give that voice of yours a little honey and lemon tea to say thank you.
Hannah Melbourn is a multi-award winning voice talent working from her broadcast quality home studio in Ramsgate Kent, England.

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Comments (2)
Eddie Garvar
3/26/2021 at 5:24 PM
Kathleen Turner!
Carolyn Frances Rubin
3/26/2021 at 12:39 PM
Loved this article Hannah! Bacall's stature at 22 was incredible...but I can't help but think about the effect those cigarettes had on both Bogart and Bacall's pipes! Smoking is so bad for so many organs in our bodies, not took mention the vocal cords.

Thanks for sharing!

Carolyn Rubin
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