Perfect Tenor Performances #4: David Phelps, "O Holy Night"

Perfect Tenor Performances #4: David Phelps, "O Holy Night" December 7, 2011

Of the elite tenors in southern gospel today, David Phelps is one name you will hear constantly placed above all the rest. For many, he is the standard by which all other tenor singers are measured.
I have to admit that I’m not one of the many. Which is by no means to say that he is not talented. I think if you’re going to talk about pure technical ability, Phelps deserves the top spot. However, a combination of factors makes me favor other tenors more.
[Note: If you are a raving “Phan,” you should probably stop reading here… unless you’re curious…]

Okay, so first of all, I’ve never gone for the limp ringlets look. Second, I can only tolerate breathy singing, from anyone, in small doses. Third, constant theatrical gestures/affectations are intensely annoying and distract from any real talent you may have, for anyone. Finally, Phelps seems unable to pick one style and stick with it. He insists on taking a lot of pop, some classical, and a little gospel… and mashing it all together with a big flourish (phlourish?), which impresses some people but leaves me wishing he’d make up his mind. It’s not his talent I dispute, it’s the effectiveness of the way he uses it.
Wow, that was a lot to get off my chest. 🙂 Still with me? Good, because today I’m posting what I regard as his finest performance: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always liked this performance because he pretty much just belts it out the way you’re supposed to without adding a whole bunch of breathy frills. He also keeps the gestures pretty minimal, and he sings it like he means it. And on top of all that, he has a normal haircut. (Coincidence? I think not.)
Lots of high notes here, with great tone and control. And having Anthony Burger on piano sure doesn’t hurt. (Plus, don’t you just love George sitting with his mouth open right behind Phelps? Priceless.) For me, “O Holy Night” is one of those songs that’s supposed to be bombastic, a show piece where you pull out all the stops. There’s no question David was born to sing it.

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  • I’d echo your sentiments about his style and not having a clear identifiable genre. In many ways it’s his biggest strength and weakness. His solo shows are an incredible experience purely because you will get everything from pop to gospel to rock (gasp) and even jazzy blues numbers. My favourite David Phelps is on the high part of the Vocal Band, belting it out straight and sure. Extremely talented and also a nice guy!

  • I think that he has the makings of a very high quality classical singer. What he needs is the discipline to separate his different “voices” without undue blurring and breathing. 🙂

  • He’s classically trained, it will inevitably come through, but if you think about it, i can’t see David Phelps in any other group other than the GVB. The GVB have always been blurry when it came down to definitions of genre, so that suits DP just fine!

  • He probably would have had a more successful solo career if his style were more clearly defined. As it is, he came running back to Bill like everyone else. 😉

  • Glenda Vincent

    Your note should have been at the top as a lead, instead I thought I was going to find a nice article about David. I should have never selected this as something of interest. How in the world did you 3 get so smart?

  • Us 3? I’m not a trinity ma’am. 🙂

  • NWBaritone

    I credit David Phelps with “introducing” me to southern gospel music. That is to say without hearing David for the first time I may or may not have ever listened to another artist in the genre. I didnt grow up a southern gospel fan, although I did grow up singing barbershop and continue to do so to this day, so I am a fan of harmony and locking chords. Southern gospel has alot of vibrato so the chords arent as precise in my opinion, but I digress. I like someone cant put David Phelps in a box. To me it shows how talented an artist is, to be able to do a number of different things. I enjoyed the solo work a great deal. David very easily could sing any of the top 3 parts and I feel like his artistic take on some classic songs is a breath of fresh air. I realize some folks think he shows off a bit, for me, i say if you can do it and do it well, then go ahead. Bottom line for me, great song, great artist regardless of the style of music he sings.

  • fortheministryofit

    i also expected to find a nice comment,but nothing wrong with letting it off your chest. I have to say,i have been blessed by this guy’s music without allowing distractions like his hair to get in the way. He in a way also introduced me to southern gospel.He does what he does well. Great voice, great ministry!

  • emerson

    Quando vc fala de canto e perfomace vocal,é muito claro que DAVID PHELPS é o iconi .
    Pôs ele é realmente surpreendente nessa aréa vocal.Se você estudar um pouco sobre estilo de cantos direferentes como soul,black,rythiam blues canto americano jazz ,blues e o liríco você vai ver que david faz tudo isso com muita clareza e dominío pois ele vem se aperfeiçoando dez de criança estudando em grandes escolas de muisica da europa e ainda se formou em canto liríco ligeiro e é especialista em registro vocal pelo academia vocal de baylor .
    Eu estudo muisa desde criança e não conheço alguém que faça tudo isso junto ao mesmo tempo em uma só musica com david faz…
    Porisso quando vc quer falar sobre performace vocal ou sobre david phelps pesquise e se informe para não falar pesteira…

  • Él es probablemente el tenor con más talento que he escuchado. Gracias por leer!

  • Terri Lormand

    I’m enjoying all of these“Perfect Tenor Performances” and wasn’t really planning to comment on all of them (especially three years after the fact), but if I must, I must. 😉
    I understand your opinions of David, he’s not for everyone…but I am indeed a fan of his, and this performance was excellent. I do agree with you about the “limp ringlets”, however… My other favorites that spotlight David are “The Love of God” and “Hide Thou Me” but I especially love “Nessun Dorma” although there are plenty of opera critics who could pick it apart, I’m sure…lol

  • Thanks for the comments, and for the follow! Perhaps I should freshen this series up all these years later. 😉

  • Terri Lormand

    I’d enjoy that, after all these years! Lots of tenors out there… 😀