As any EDM fan (and American singer Meghan Trainor) would say these days, it’s all about that bass. In dance hall and party scenarios, it just doesn’t cut it if you don’t have that earth shattering low-end thump. But as far as bass singing in current pop music go, it’s quite lonely at the bottom.
It was not always the case though with bass singers. The 1940s and 1950s was fertile ground for bass vocals on hundreds of pop and R&B tunes. But with the popularity of electric instruments and changing pop styles, the low frequencies were increasingly being provided by the bass guitar.
The scene is quite different in the world of Western classical music. For many centuries, bass singers have formed an integral part of operas. In fact, classical music has very specific classification of singing voices, and there are several different classes of bass singers according to their vocal ranges.Gospel music, in its ensembles, has often resorted to bass parts and there are solo singers such as Paul Robeson who would fit the bill as a bass singer. Pop music, of course, does not adhere to such strict classifications. Many male pop singers who would strictly not be called true bass singers are distinguished by their bass-heavy singing styles, like Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. Country & Western music generally speaking has a fondness for low vocals; the same goes for vocalists of some heavy metal bands. One of the most memorable performances featuring bass vocals is the aptly titled “Mr. Bass Man” by Johnny Cymbal from 1963. Cymbal, whose real name was John Hendry Blair, was a Scottish-born American pop teen idol. Though he later found success also as a songwriter and producer, he’ll forever be remembered for “Mr. Bass Man”. In the song, he professes his love for bass vocals and his ambitions of becoming one such singer: “Mr. Bass Man, you’ve got that certain somethin’/Mr. Bass Man, you set that music thumpin.’
Indeed, the heyday for bass vocalists were the 1950s and early 1960s when doo wop music reigned supreme with groups such the Drifters, the Dominoes, the Coasters and the Cadillacs. There were literally hundreds of vocal groups coming out of urban neighborhoods in the US (much like teens carrying electric guitars and forming bands in the wake of the Beatles in the mid sixties).