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A Time For Voice Over To Heal, Rejuvenate
... And Come Back Stronger Than Ever!
December 23, 2020

By Martha Kahn
John Florian screenshots

When I first learned that the Voice Arts® Awards this year would be presented online, I couldn't imagine how that was going to work. The highly anticipated annual event is traditionally packed with shoulder-rubbing L.A. glitter, star power and excitement.

In this COVID pandemic year, could SOVAS (the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences) do it again?

Yes! They virtually did.

On Sunday, December 20, when the 2020 Voice Arts Awards Gala streamed gloriously live to a worldwide audience from New World Stages in New York City, it was the ONLY show on Broadway!

That in itself is a symbol of the resiliency of the voice over industry - and, in addition to announcing and honoring winners of the coveted awards, resilience was a theme resonating throughout the online event.

SOVAS President and CEO Rudy Gaskins' (pictured, with Joan Baker) opening remarks spoke to our hearts when he talked about "innovation while working around the pandemic.

"What are you willing to sacrifice while bringing the country together?" he asked. "We all need healing. That is why we need celebration and why we celebrate tonight …in our work, art and bringing a brighter future for humanity."  


It's been a tough year. But the arts have depended on our voices. 

They have depended on TV and Radio Commercials, Narrations, PSA's, Animations, Audiobooks, Promos and yes … Political Campaigns. Our sound engineers and writers were crucial, too.

Let's face it: the voice over industry was - and is - ESSENTIAL!

When the ever-graceful Joan Baker - SOVAS co-founder / voice actor / coach - came onstage she asked us to reflect on "how far we have come through the pain, grief and devastation that has affected our community" this year.

It's time to "heal, rejuvenate and come back stronger than ever," she said.

And then ...

The stage sizzled with a razzle dazzle performance of Chicago's "All That Jazz" by Broadway performers Lana Gordon (pictured, right) and Arian Keddell, along with a screen tribute to the iconic Ann Reinking, who just recently passed. 

I don't know about you, but I was practicing my "jazz hands"!  


Glenn Hutchins, philanthropist, co-founder of the Silver Lake global technology investment company, chair of the Hutchins Center National Advisory Board (plus many more titles too numerous to name here), introduced this year's winner of the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity Honor: Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - hereafter known as "Skip"... and to PBS viewers as the host of the popular Finding Your Roots program.
Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, professor, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. - Wikipedia   
Hutchins said that just like Ali, Gates (pictured) uses his voice as a pulpit to honor and champion those who are less fortunate, and to build bridges for the African American Community.  

LL Cool J and Jodi Foster also voiced video accolades.

"To be the recipient of this award is one of the greatest honors of my life," Gates said, "and I cannot thank you enough."  

Gates reminded us that The Champ was poetry in motion - a phrase that lives on through the Muhammad Ali Center - and asked: "How would Ali have led us through these hard times?

"Ali was unabashed, unflinching and unexpected. He led us to know that black is beautiful and black is also loud. He spoke a proud and glorious truth!

"They took his title away, they took his name away, but no one could take his humanity away. Ali said: 'I don't have to be what you want me to be. I am free to be what I want.' "  


Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, presented the Voice Arts Icon Award to actor / voice actor Mark Hamill.

(Pictured: Tom Kenny, left, and Mark Hamill beneath their iconic character roles.)

We know Hamill as Star Wars' Luke Skywalker, but Kenny said "Mark has always been a voice actor - he's one of us!

"He treats voice over like a craft, not a lark. Working with him is as fun as you think it would be." 

Star Wars director George Lucas congratulated Hamill on his brilliance as an actor.

But Hamill's brilliance as a voice actor also shined as we watched videos of his multiple personalities at the mic and on the screen. The Joker, Fire Lord Ozai, Colonel Muska, Master Eraqus, Captain StickeyBeard, Chucky, Larry 3000, Spiderman, and of course Luke Skywalker among so many others. It was exhilarating!

In accepting the award, Hamill quipped, "I'm glad they cast with their ears and not their eyes! "

He related that when he was cast in the Batman animated TV series as the voice of The Joker (in 1992), he couldn't believe what had happened for him. But he was welcomed by the VO community and "never looked back."

"These are some of the nicest, most talented people," Hamill said of voice actors. "They are the most iconic characters, and yet people don't know their names."

Isn't that the truth? 

"Frankly, I'm speechless," Hamill concluded. And that's something rare for us voice actors!  

Then Broadway star Lana Gordon returned to the stage with a touching rendition of Elton John's Your Song, as an "In Memorian" visual played of those we've lost this year.

It was another reminder that 2020 can't end soon enough.


Yet there was much levity amid excitement as the event moved into the awards ceremony.

Numerous presenters - famously accomplished in their own rights - took the stage to voice the names of all nominees, and then opened "the envelope" to announce, "And the winner is ..."

In some cases the nominees were seen in a live video gallery as the winner was announced, and our video view shot quickly to the winner's reaction.

(Pictured: Daniel Ross, winner of Outstanding Body of Work, Best Voice Actor.)

And kudos for excellent performances by live announcer Dan Emmett and pre-recorded announcers of nominees, Lisa Flanagan and Juana Plata.


How fortunate we are to work in an industry of inclusivity and diversity – where the spoken work is powerful and makes a difference in every day, every hour, every minute and yes – every second!      

Thank you, SOVAS and Rudy and Joan, for creating a stirring event about the power of voice over, and our journey this year toward healing, rejuvenating and, as Joan said, coming back stronger than ever.

In my book, everyone in this business is a winner for being committed to the craft and having the tenacity it takes to be a voice actor. Alas, it is a time to celebrate our craft!

Note: For more about the Society of Voice Arts And Sciences (SOVAS), please visit
Martha Kahn is the owner/director of Yes I Kahn Voiceover, where she successfully coaches kids making their way into voice over from coast-to-coast. She is also a voice actor based in Southern California. And this is Martha's eighth year as Marketing and Sales Director for VoiceOverXtra.

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