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November 9, 2010

Dos voces

I like voices. Not just the singing kind (among which I happen to prefer raspy, gargly male throats along the lines of Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen, and Fats Waller--not Tom Waits: too inverse-show-offy), but speaking voices. That, plus my rapidly fading showbiz knowledge (I can't keep up with the stroboscopic succession of ever-younger, ever more vapid movie actors), used to enable me to nail the voiceovers on a lot of commercials. Hey, that's Gene Hackman for--if I remember correctly--United Airlines, Lowe's and the Oppenheimer Fund. Richard ("'night, John Boy") Thomas for Mercedes-Benz was easy. Isn't that the leading man from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and any number of Lifetime Network woman-in-jep movies, doing those Applebee's commercials?

I have a harder time with female voices. Part of it's due to residual chauvinism (shared, apparently, by "the industry": they don't seem to spend the money Dolby-ing up women's voices in the movies like they do Russell Crowe whisper-growling that he's going to break his innocent wife out of prison), part of it's due to plain ol' discomfort with the higher registers, and part of it's due to the fact (actually, I'm guessing) that commercial-makers don't go in for female celebrity voices as much as they do for those of males that one subliminally recognizes. The only one I know in New York is longtime radio veteran Patricia McCann ("Hi, this is Patricia McCann...) on the AM radio I listen to for traffic reports. She introduces herself on commercials because, these days, she's known for doing commercial voiceovers--a variation on historian Daniel J. Boorstin's theme of people who are well-known for being well-known. (Another variation is "reality TV star.")

The reason for certain voices being chosen to do certain commercials is something one can suss out after a few listenings. Gene Hackman sounds like a lovable old uncle at Thanksgiving dinner who's taken you aside, put his arm around your shoulder, and is giving you some sincere career advice. That tone does nicely for an airline, a do-it-yourself chain, and an investment firm. Richard Thomas sounds so farm-family genuine, there's almost a catch in his throat--all the better to humanize the fatuous jerks waiting to plunk down top dollar for a stand-up radiator ornament. And that "Greek Wedding" fellow has a nephew-ish "Gee whiz!" vibe that makes the whole family stand up and say, "Yeah, let's go out to dinner tonight; it won't cost all that much!" He's a transitional figure, I think, to the current raft of more youthful (or at least youthful-sounding) voiceovers whose voices parallel their (I imagine) fashionable Tin-Tin/parakeet haircuts. But with them, my interest fades to black--entirely too much adenoidal "dude" intonation. And I don't much want to go to Dave & Busters and drink dishwater light beer, anyway.

But I've digressed. The above is all by way of prologue to a tout of my current two favorite voices: Keith Morrison's and Marco Bocanumenth's. Morrison is one of the crew of narrators who's introduced by a woman übernarrator (who walks slowly through an abandoned-warehouse set that shouts "crime!") to tell a true-crime story on MSNBC or Investigation Discovery. (Yes, I watch those things--avidly.) A skinny guy with a lot of white hair that makes him look like a '50s rockabilly singer who aged forty years overnight, his slightly scratchy, slightly rumbly, light baritone inflects just about every word with length, tone, and prefacing pause. Nobody else can say, "But how much of the truth was he really prepared to tell?" and make it sound like a passage from the Bible.

Marco Bocanumenth is the co-host of the Sunday-afternoon, Spanish-language, music-and-news program, "Panorama," on WJFF, a public radio station in the Catskills. (Because WJFF streams online at, Bocanumenth's dulcet tones are as available to all of us as Morrison's are.) He's in his late 70s, lives a very modest life (a recent article in a local paper about senior housing had him complaining about spending $725 a month for a two-bedroom "dive" in Monticello), and makes spoken Spanish sound like music. I've often arranged my Sunday schedule to be either on the road or in the painting studio so I can catch his whole show. (The traditional Latin music is real good, too.) Bocanumenth's vocal cords are so wonderful that they've persuaded me to order the "total" version of Rosetta Stone's Spanish and vow to go to my grave passably speaking that idioma hermosa.

November 9, 2010 7:45 AM | | Comments (1)


I think the best voice and well known is Sean Conary. His voice is easy to know once he speaks.

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