Mary Ann Ellis

The human voice plays a vast role in our lives, much more than we realize. Very early in a baby’s life he begins to recognize the voices of his parents and of his siblings. A soothing word from a mother can calm a crying infant, and a lullaby can send him off to sleep. But as we grow, so do the effects of voices. The first soft whispers of young lovers, the shrill admonitions of teachers and parents, the cheering on of friends—all these voices permanently color our memories.

Well I remember my mother singing as she went about her work. She thought she couldn’t sing, but I loved listening to “Rock of Ages, cleft for me” as she starched and ironed Daddy’s long-sleeved white shirts. She sang for her own entertainment as she worked, and inadvertently for mine. I found her voice soothing and beautiful, whether she sang the folk ballad “Barbarba Allen” or “No Vacancy,” a song popular during the dark days of World War II. Even then I appreciated the days when Mama sang.

Daddy’s deep bass voice thunders in my memory too. We spent innumerable Sunday afternoons on our front porch, rocking and singing loudly from an old Baptist hymnal. “When we all get to Heaven” was my absolute favorite. If the quality was lacking, the volume made up for it. Occasionally, Mama joined us, but mostly she left the singing to Daddy and me.

This same voice that joined me in joyful song struck fear in the hearts of any suitors that called on me later on in my teen years. Daddy didn’t threaten with guns like the country songs speak of today. He just spoke quietly in his deep, deep voice.

“Sit down, son. Mary Ann’ll be out in a few minutes.” My boy friends sat waiting and trembling, eager to be away.

Anyone who doubts the power of the voice should consider our former president Barack Obama. Touted as the best orator since John Kennedy, he was a master at using his voice. He understood all the vocal nuances and used each to his advantage. Many people think his voice mesmerized this nation into electing him, and no matter how we voted, few can deny the power of his voice.

I was saddened to hear when Paul Harvey, one of the great voices of the twentieth century, fell silent. He died in Arizona at the age of ninety. What a voice this man had. He could have taught lessons on using our voices advantageously. Earning a living with his “News and Comments” and “The Rest of the Story,” he hypnotized his listeners and kept us coming back for more for nearly six decades. He has been called the most gifted and beloved broadcaster in our nation’s history. His unique style of delivering the news, his choice of what to cover, and his own comments made me a loyal fan for as long as I can remember. I even believed his advertisements. If Paul Harvey said a particular preparation would cure my warts, I completely believed. This man would not lie to his public. May he rest in peace.

At the peak of his career, Harvey reached more than 24 million listeners on more than 1,200 radio stations and charged $30,000 to give a speech. Three hundred newspapers carried his syndicated column. Not many of us can claim such money for our words, spoken or written, but people who’ve been blessed with wonderful voices surround us. Often, I sit in my pew on Sunday morning and savor the minister’s voice as he shares the word of God. His choice of words pulls me right into the message and holds me until the closing prayer, making me forget all the final preparations I must make before I serve lunch. His rich voice is God’s implement.

Whether we are listening to a friend on the telephone or the first “Da Da” or “Ma Ma” from a baby’s mouth, we have been incredibly blessed with voices—still more of the blessings that we tend to take for granted—unless we happen to lose them.