Top Five Vocal Instrumentalists (with Video)

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Marty Chandler
Lipbone Redding: Does a wine glass sound like a trumpet?
Being a musician usually entails playing an instrument, but there are downsides to having a drum set or a six-string, especially when lugging one's own equipment on tour.

But there are a handful of musicians whose instruments are always with them. They are called vocal instrumentalists, and they use their voices to emulate the sounds of horns, guitars, drums, and just about anything else you can imagine. One such artist is New York-based Lipbone Redding, a former subway busker who emulates the sounds of a trumpet with his voice. Redding's new album, Unbroken, features his unique vocal stylings over layers of New Orleans swing, Memphis funk, and soul.

In honor of Redding's upcoming performance at The Compound Grill in Scottsdale on Wednesday, July 13, we've compiled a list of the top five artists to use their voices as instruments.

Ella Fitzgerald: Legendary jazz vocalist Fitzgerald could sing and swing with the best of them, and pioneered a style known as scat singing, in which she emulated the sounds of trumpets and saxphones. Fitzgerald began doing this in the 1940s, while singing with Dizzy Gillespie's band. "I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing," Fitzgerald said. Her 1945 scat recording of "Flying Home" was hailed by The New York Times, who praised Fitzgerald's "dazzling inventiveness" and called the song "one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade."



Rahzel
: A former member of The Roots, Rahzel takes virtuoso beatboxing to a whole new level. Using only his voice, he can mimic the sounds of snare drums, bass drums, and turntable scratching, and rap simultaneously.


Sigor Rós: This Icelandic band sings all their songs in a non-literal "language" called Vonleska. Vonleska has no grammar or syntax, and focuses solely on the sound of language. Emotive howls, fast-paced gibberish, and melodic strings of syllables comprise the sounds, but there are no inherent concepts or meanings behind the tones (unlike the words and sentences in real languages).


Bjork: Another import from Iceland, Bjork is known more for singing in intelligible English than using her voice as an instrument, but her album Medulla is almost entirely a cappella, and the songs are made mostly from layers of Bjork's vocals. There are few instruments on the record; throat singing, beatboxing, and choral arrangements dominate. And the album features an appearance from another vocal instrumentalist on this list, Rahzel.


Bobby McFerrin: Anyone who could hear in the 1980s remembers McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" all over the radio. Although most of McFerrin's songs incorporate his ability to layer vocal harmonies into symphonic-sounding melodies, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is the best and most well-known example of McFerrin's skills. The track is rich with sounds and whistling melodies, but there's not an inorganic instrument to be found here. The sounds of violin strings, softly thumping drums, and steady bass guitar are all made from multi-track layers of McFerrin's voice.



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