Ozark Dopers: Why do hillbilly singers often do that broken voice trick?

Back about two seasons ago on American Idol, in one of the early auditions a country singer did that hillbilly “voice breaking” like sound where their pitch rises for an instant into falsetto, making it have that ‘break’ sound between adult male pitch and the falsetto of a prepubescent boy.

I myself and not enamoured of this sound, but far be it from me to judge. In any case, Randy Jackson asked the singer, when finished, why do country singers always do that sound? Randy then imitated the sound. The singer didn’t answer.

SO why is this voice breaking thing done? I’ve never heard any other type of singer do this on purpose.

A yodel?

Not to be dismissive but its done because someone did it once and liked it. Every musical genre or sub-genre has its acoustic language. I dont think there’s really an explanation other than “it works” and sounded good to someone.

Why did 1950s rockers do those screams? Why did 1960-70s rock singer use the word “baby” or “hey” so much? Why did 1980’s rockers use cheesy synths? etc

If you think that’s weird, youtube* “throat singing”. Or listen to some Indonesian gamelan stuff. There’s a whole lotta weird out there besides what’s in our own backyards.

*Q: Is that a verb? A: It is now.

I’m from the Ozarks, and I have no idea what sound you are talking about. I dern near shot moonshine out my corn cob pipe when I saw the term “hillbilly.” We prefer to be called “Hill Dwelling Americans.” The only real hillbillies around here are fictional, costumed characters with the uncanny ability to pull their bottom lip up over their nose. Ozark tourists pay them well to keep the pretense alive.
Ask me about progressive 70’s art rock though, and I might be able to answer.

I actually think (and this is a total WAG) it’s an Irish thing first. I seem to hear what you’re talking about most often in singers that have a heavy Irish accent (think Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries or Sinead O’Connor), but Sarah McLachlan (who’s Irish-Canadian) also does it sometimes. And the Appalachian “hillbillies” are generally Scots-Irish in ancestry.

It may be a complete coincidence, though. I have no proof or anything.

Isn’t that called “high lonesome” ? Similar to the style of Hank Williams, Sr.

Upon searching the 'net, apparently not. Carry on.

To imply that they’re jes’ reg’lar folks and not professional singers, even though they’re professional singers. Deliberate artlessness has a long tradition in art and music.

I think Jimmy Rodges made this technique famous, at least in American music as opposed to the more elaborate version you hear in some Swiss or European music. You can also see an example in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“High lonesome sound” is generally a bluegrass term, and refers to sustained high pitched nasal singing, not the “broken” sound described in the OP. I agree with the poster who suspected it is derived from yodeling, a la Jimmie Rogers, the Singing Brakeman.

:smiley: +1

But yeah, there’s a bit of a lilt in Appalachian/Ozarkian/Bugtusslean music. Some say it’s a vestige of the Welsh accent from when Madoc sailed up Mobile Bay and ventured into the Appalchians, but I prefer the more Occamsian explanation of it being brought over by the umpteen bajillion Scots-Irish folks who settled the Appalachians and the South in general.

As an aside (= hijack), sassyfras, may I point out that while the questions you’ve asked have been fine, the implicit assumption that Ozarkians would be the ones who know the answer to this one, or that Basques and Sumerians (do Sumerians still exist?) would know about language isolates, is faulty. Addressing threads to them strikes me as rather silly. My apologies if I’ve been whooshed.

And I dern near shot sodie pop all over my keyboard reading this :stuck_out_tongue: Thanks for the giggle.

In particular, check out the entry for Blue Yodel. That’s the only formal term I’ve ever heard used for this effect.

I shoulda remembered Jimmie Rodgers, being as he’s from Miss. and all. :smack:

Here’s Lee Ann Rimes doing a quick yodel(about :35 in). Is that what you mean?

Darn tootin’!

I couldn’t find the ad that never stops playing these days.

It’s a long shot that this will ring any bells, but I think it’s what the OP is talking about. Remember that King of the Hill episode (Peggy Makes the Big Leagues) where Peggy flunks Arlen High’s football star, David Kala’iki Ali’i? Remember how the on-field announcer’s voice intentionally breaks upwards at the end of the name? I think that’s the same concept.

It is odd that the OP thinks it’s Ozark related. Pretty much all country singers that sing with twang will have this ability in their repertoire. I mean, the best I can come up with is that country music was originally called “hillbilly music”, and hillbilly was most often used to describe people who live in Ozark and Appalachian mountain regions. But really the music started when immigrants to the Southern Appalachian mountains brought together a bunch of instruments from their various home countries.

Still, adding yodeling to the mix is largely credited to Jimmie Rodgers, as mentioned above. And he’s considered the “Father of Country Music.” According to here , there’s a legend that American country music didn’t really start until Rodgers heard some Swiss yodelers and borrowsed many of the techniques to use as vocal ornamentation.

And it’s not exclusive to country music. Variations where the flip itself is minimized can be heard in all sorts of popular music. But the most common use I’ve heard is to use it to create a whiny style, so that you sound like you are crying. Check out some emo music. It uses the same flip, but does it differently by starting high, dropping down, and then going back up without quite flipping.

Since this is music-related, I figured you might pick up a few more answers if I moved this from General Questions to Cafe Society.