Roy Orbison

Born 23 April 1936. Died 6 December 1988.
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Roy Orbison enters Michael Ball's Singers Hall of Fame

Kathryn Maclean nominates Roy Orbison for Michael Ball's Singers Hall of Fame

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Biography

Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988), also known by the nickname The Big O, was an American singer-songwriter, best known for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional ballads. Orbison grew up in Texas and began singing in a rockabilly/country and western band in high school until he was signed by Sun Records in Memphis. His greatest success came with Monument Records between 1960 and 1964, when 22 of his songs placed on the Billboard Top 40, including "Only the Lonely", "Crying", and "Oh, Pretty Woman". His career stagnated through the 1970s, but several covers of his songs and the use of "In Dreams" in David Lynch's film Blue Velvet (1986) revived his career.

In 1988, he joined the supergroup Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne and also released a new solo album. He died of a heart attack in December that year, at the zenith of his resurgence. His life was marred by tragedy, including the death of his first wife and his two eldest sons in separate accidents. Orbison's vocal instrument bridged the gap between baritone and tenor, and music scholars have suggested that he had a three- or four-octave range. The combination of Orbison's powerful, impassioned voice and complex musical arrangements led many critics to refer to his music as operatic, giving him the sobriquet "the Caruso of Rock". Elvis Presley and Bono have stated his voice was, respectively, the greatest and most distinctive they had ever heard. While most male performers in rock and roll in the 1950s and '60s projected a defiant masculinity, many of Orbison's songs instead conveyed a quiet, desperate vulnerability. He was known for performing while standing still and solitary and for wearing black clothes and dark sunglasses, which lent an air of mystery to his persona.

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BBC Reviews

  1. Review of The Monument Singles Collection

    The Monument Singles Collection 2011

    Reviewed by Jaime Gill
    The songwriting great still casts an impressive shadow across pop.
  2. Review of The Soul Of Rock And Roll

    The Soul Of Rock And Roll 2008

    Reviewed by Chris Jones
    He will always be the Big O.