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NPR Arts & Life

Singer Anita Darian Remembered For Genre-Spanning Career

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A moment now to remember a soprano whose voice was heard by millions of people who never who she was.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

ANITA DARIAN: (Singing) How I wish we weren't...

SIEGEL: Anita Darian died last week at age 87. This is from her singing Ned Rorem's "Four Dialogues." She sang classical music, musical comedy and pop music. She was a studio singer with a vocal range to match her stylistic range.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT")

THE TOKENS: (Singing) Near the village, the quiet, the lion sleeps tonight. Hey, hey.

DARIAN: (Vocalizing).

LYNDA WELLS: And there she is. It is the floating voice of Anita Darian.

SIEGEL: And that's Lynda Wells, who was friends with Anita Darian for nearly 50 years.

WELLS: Well, let me tell you a funny story about "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The arrangers and producers called Anita in to record with this new group called The Tokens. And when she got into the session, they showed her the chart that she was to sing, and they tried it once through and she said it's too low. I need to sing it up an octave. And the producer and the arranger looked at her and said you can't do that. And she said, well, let's try it.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) So this is her range. This is her natural range that we're hearing her sing at.

WELLS: (Laughter) She had four workable octaves without going to falsetto.

SIEGEL: Now, she, in addition to other things, performed in musical theater. She performed in opera, yes?

WELLS: Absolutely. She did everything from Helen the Hellmann's hen in commercials to the beginning voices of "Alvin And The Chipmunks" to imitating a theremin for Burt Bacharach to going onto Broadway.

SIEGEL: Wait a minute. Did you say Hellmann's hen for Hellmann's mayonnaise?

WELLS: Yes (laughter).

SIEGEL: So she did a lot of studio singing.

WELLS: She did a lot of studio - and she did voices, so she did cartoon voices.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS STRANGE")

MICKEY AND SYLVIA: (Singing) Love, love is strange.

SIEGEL: This was a famous record by Mickey and Sylvia called "Love is Strange."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS STRANGE")

MICKEY AND SYLVIA: (Singing) You'll never wanna quit.

DARIAN: (Singing) No, no.

MICKEY AND SYLVIA: (Singing) After you've had it...

SIEGEL: Wait a minute. Is she doing the no-no?

WELLS: Yes (laughter) yes, yes.

SIEGEL: That's Anita Darian.

WELLS: It's not the same woman that you heard on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," is it?

SIEGEL: And she seemed to carve out some kind of niche for exotic songs.

WELLS: She did. When she was recording for Cap Records, they decided to use the exotica of her Armenian heritage doing an album based on some Armenian songs and things like "Come On-A My House," which had been a hit for Rosie Clooney, but had never been done in the original Armenian.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME ON-A MY HOUSE")

DARIAN: (Singing in Armenian) I'm gonna give you candy.

SIEGEL: It's probably better than the English there.

WELLS: (Laughter) Well, it was really cute.

SIEGEL: Do you ever wonder how it is that someone like Anita Darian, who had a wonderful voice - yet had all kinds of studio work singing in all kinds of famous records but not - not what we think of as a star who was a household name. Why not?

WELLS: I think that she was so versatile that she would fall into niches, so she became the backup singer. You'd either bring in a string section or you'd bring in Anita Darian.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you very much, Lynda Wells, for talking with us about the remarkable voice and the remarkable career of your friend the late Anita Darian, who died last week at age 87.

WELLS: Thank you so very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISIRLOU")

DARIAN: (Singing) Desert shadows creep across purple sands. Natives kneel in prayer by their caravans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.