Heather Headley: A Must-Watch Singer hero

Heather Headley: A Must-Watch Singer

Posted Monday, May 16th 2022 by David McCall
The New York City Center Encores! production of the classic Into the Woods by the late musical theatre giant, Stephen Sondheim, boasts a star-studded cast lead by Neil Patrick Harris, Sara Bareilles, and the incredible, incomparable Heather Headley...

Heather Headley is an award winning (Grammy and Tony) performing artist in the realms of Music and Theatre. She is known for her visceral, revealing, and, well, shocking (in the best possible way) performances. When she is onstage, at the mic, or even speaking in an interview, you can't help but pay attention. 

"He Touched Me" from Drat! The Cat!

Take for instance this gem of a performance from My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs, a concert recorded in 2000 that aired on PBS. She relates vocally with the guitar as if dancing. 

One of Heather's many skills is the ability to let the lyric, music, and musicians affect her in the moment. No stimulus goes unnoticed. A perfect example is the final beat of the tune. The guitarist strikes a solo note, and Heather reacts as though she's been transported back to the moment when that special someone changed her life with one touch.

"The Color Purple" from The Color Purple

Heather assumed the role of Shug Avery after the mega-watt Jennifer Hudson left the production. Heather makes the role her very own, vocally sparring with the incredible tour de force Cynthia Erivo eight times a week. Listen to her note-perfect rendition of the title tune, but more importantly, watch her sing with her entire body. Actors and singers take note how the lyric shines from each and every cell of her body. You can't look away! Now this is what delivering a song should look and sound like. 

"What About Love" from The Color Purple

This revival was exquisite! Note: Heather's breaths aren't just functional for her support; she uses even the most basic tenant of singing as a way to keep telling the story. She inhales as Shug, and you know exactly what Shug is feeling. Again, her entire being is taking part in the event. This clip also showcases how she can allow Shug to have body tension, but let the voice remain free. 

"Endless Night" from The Lion King

Heather Headley originated the role of Nala in Disney's The Lion King on Broadway in 1997. Here she flawlessly takes on Simba's song, "Endless Night" for MCC Theater's MisCast Gala concert. Even though she's performing on what looks to be a zoom call, she is in top form. She still manages engage every fiber of her being in this not-to-be-missed rendition. 

"The Prayer" with Andrea Bocelli in Las Vegas

You didn't even know you needed to hear Heather singing in Italian and matching musicality with one of our greatest living vocal talents. I'm in Heaven. I think my favorite moment comes towards the end of the song when Heather has to take the quickest of breaths to match Andrea's timing. Then she sustains the full length of the final note on what must have been little more than a catch breath. It's already difficult note to hold, but then to sustain it on half a tank? She adapts like the professional she is.

"I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard at the Olivier Awards

Ok. Heather Headley sings the song...and crushes. She makes her own choices with the song, but absolutely, brilliantly, and perfectly acknowledges Whitney's contributions to the Dolly Parton ballad at the key change. Can we talk about how long she extends her breath? Breath management for the win!

"Your Song" from The 2004 Kennedy Center Honors

Is there a song Heather can't own? Absolutely not. Her joy is infectious. Then, when you remember her big break came as Nala in Disney's The Lion King, composed by Sir Elton John, you can't help but feel her special connection to the song.She uses every last lyric to the fullest, bending, gliding, and ultimately painting a beautiful rendition of a classic song. Listen for yourself...

"Memory" from Cats

This particular performance stands apart from other renditions of this song. Heather overtly plays with intensity in all her performances, but this one is next level. She's in top vocal form and the story she's telling takes us from the highest highs to the lowest lows. She restrains, leans in, then pulls back again vocally, only to wallop us with the pleading climax of the ballad. Should we revive Cats again for a Heather Headley Grizabella?

"Easy as Life" from Aida

One of the lessons Heather never ceases to teach is the power of the build. In this particular song, she lets Aida gloat about her self control, only to let her unravel with each consecutive verse. Vocally, her clarion tone writhes through the lyric, picking up weight and power. She travels miles emotionally while standing completely still. Buckle up for the Heather Headley crescendo!

"Written in the Stars" from Aida

Heather's solo performances astound, but as you've seen in The Color Purple clips, Heather's exudes chemistry with her duet partners. She and Adam Pascal have vastly different styles of singing, but when their voices blend they become one passionate roar. Ready your tissues...

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz

There are an endless number of performances that deserve a spot on this list, but this one holds a coveted spot in my heart. The lyric, written all the way back in 1939, takes on a brand new life in the hands of Heather Headley. She doesn't wallow in a passive wish to escape, she demands it with all the power her voice and body have. You'll never hear the song the same way again.

Billboard had this to say about Heather Headley: "[She] is among the top singers with a vocal that absolutely astounds with its intensity... This woman is one of the great entertainers of the day, on record and on stage." I completely agree. When she takes the stage, she's not taking it to show us what she can do. She takes the stage only to give it away generously to the audience and her fellow artists. 

Let us know on Instagram or our Facebook Page which Heather Headley performance you would add to the list.

David McCall

Senior Voice Teacher, Head of Vocal Development

David has become one of the leading instructors of Contemporary Voice in New York City, with clients ranging from Broadway singers (Billy Elliot, Matilda), Classical and sacred music singers, cantors in New York City Synagogues, to Professional Rock and Pop artists, some of which have toured and been signed to record contracts, appeared on shows like The Voice and American Idol, and performed at venues such as SXSW. Additionally, David has taught as a Master Teacher of Contemporary Voice for the NYSTA Comparative Vocal Pedagogy series.

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