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Troubadours, Crooners & Major Divas: Singers of a Senior Kind

The phenomenon seems impossible to ignore – singers in their 70’s and 80’s are belting out songs on the stage to packed houses of eager fans, here in Vancouver, all over North America and in Israel. Their albums are high on the Billboard 200 charts. This column is dedicated to these inveterate performers, to their energy, their talent and their ability to stay relevant after 40 years.

leonard-cohenWhen the promotions began appearing for the Vancouver performance of Leonard Cohen in the autumn of 2012, I began to take notice. We all grew up with the poetry and songs of this unique, talented and idiosyncratic man from Montreal — poet, balladeer, lover, hippy and Buddhist. Now 80 years old, Cohen has just released his 13th album, Popular Problems, which together with his 12th, Old Ideas, may constitute his best work yet (Zoomer Magazine, December 2013, January 2014):
His great accomplishment was that he kept at it, got control of his voice, acquiring a later-life lower register that’s authentic, commanding and different. He remained true to himself, and eventually the world swung back to the beauty and profundity of his work.
His live performance on November 13, 2012 was “pure class”. The Vancouver Sun’s music reporter Francois Marchand wrote: “Leonard’s voice, his style, his lyrics…Cohen’s band was flat-out spectacular all around…the second half of the show would be filled with momentous highlights…but with Cohen the evening could’ve gone on forever, as comfortable as it was to be wrapped in his rapturous embrace.”
Ian MCGillis (PostMedia News, Sept. 24, 2014), wrote… “Cohen isn’t just crossing the 80-year line — he’s breaking the tape in spectacular fashion, entering his ninth decade as a thoroughly contemporary artist.”

Barbra-StreisandDid you attend Barbra Streisand’s (age 72) spellbinding concert in Vancouver in October, 2012?
Have you heard her latest disc Partners? Remember young Barbra in Funny Girl (1968), and the Yeshiva boy in Yentl (1983)? She is the first singer in history to accomplish being #1 on the charts six decades in a row! Not bad for a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn. Streisand’s new album of duets only includes male singers and features Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, John Legend and Babyface. In an interview Barbra lamented the fact that the female vocalists she wanted were not available. She loves singing with Celine Dion and Donna Summer and intends directing another movie in the near future. When asked how she maintains her voice, she answers “I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste of liquor….I don’t drink wine even. Maybe that has something to do with it. I smoked when I was 10 years old…, on the rooftops in Brooklyn…gave it up when I was 12 (Mesfin Fekadu, Sept. 17, 2014).”
Francois Marchand (Oct. 10, 2012) wrote “Streisand proved why she belongs at the top of the heap, to quote Sinatra. The perennially decorated singer/actor/writer/director left an indelible mark on her Vancouver audience with a performance that was pure, undiluted class….Even at 70, Streisand’s voice still retains a power that makes the tender moments warm and intimate, the peaks soaring and powerful, yet never pushy and histrionic…It’s hard to top Babs.”

Joan-BaezWhere you there when Joan Baez, (age 73), sang her heart out in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre on November 16th, 2014? The veteran activist and folksinger, an iconic figure of the ‘60s anti-war and civil rights movements in the U.S., performed much like she has for the past five decades: “Frail yet powerful, always on the verge of breaking, but instead bending with a quiver.” Marchand (Nov. 16, 2014) praised her rendition of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’and her signature version of protest songs Joe Hill, the tune she famously sang at Woodstock in 1969. She is still singing out her message: For people to unite and work out their differences, and rejoice in the power of song… 45 years later!
So you didn’t go the performances of Leonard Cohen, Barbra Streisand or Joan Baez, but you can still catch two great veteran performers in Vancouver this year: Tony Bennett (age 88) who performs with Lady Gaga, two concerts in their “Cheek To Cheek” concert tour beginning on May 25th, 2015; and Bette Midler (age 69) who delivers, after 50 years in show business, her dynamic stand-up comedy and singing routine on June 2, 2015. We seniors in the Lower Mainland can admire these role-models, enjoy their exceptional talents and be inspired to achieve our greatest potential.
We shout “Bravo” to them all.
– Dolores Luber