dame kiri te kanawa on the greatest voice she ever heard


Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

KIRI TE KANAWA is not a name fa­miliar to most pop music fans, in­cluding those of Elvis Presley. Nonethe­less, she is one of the most fa­mous opera singers in the world and should be known to Elvis fans. She was born in New Zealand in 1944 into a family that was too poor to be able to af­ford to even keep her, making her family con­sid­er­ably poorer than the Pres­leys during Elvis’ youth.

She was adopted and raised by an Irish mother and Maori fa­ther. For­tu­nately, when the young Kiri started war­bling, her adop­tive par­ents en­cour­aged her. At the age of six, she per­formed on a local radio broadcast.

“After win­ning the John Court Aria Prize and the Mobil Song Quest, Kiri shot to stardom in New Zealand and was ac­cepted without au­di­tion to study at the London Opera Centre in 1965. After ap­pearing in little known op­eras such as De­libes’ Le Roi l’a dit and Wolf-Ferrari’s The In­quis­i­tive Woman, Kiri Te Kanawa re­ceived crit­ical praise as Idamantes in Mozart’s Idomeneo.

Soon after, Kiri was granted a three-year con­tract as a ju­nior prin­cipal at Covent Garden. Kiri Te Kanawa came to in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion singing the role of Xenia in Boris Go­dunov and the Countess in Le Nozze di Fi­garo.” (Bach Can­tatas)


Kiri Te Kanawa was chosen to sing at the mar­riage of the Prince of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer.


In 1966, she re­leased her first album. She has been a suc­cessful opera singer, recording artist, and ac­tress for more than fifty years. Among her many dis­tinc­tions are hon­orary doc­tor­ates from Dundee, Durham, Auck­land, Not­tingham, and Ox­ford Universities. 

In 1982, she was made Dame Com­mander of the British Empire.

And what’s that got to do with Elvis the Pelvis? In 2007, Michael Parkinson in­ter­viewed Kiri Te Kanawa on his BBC tele­vi­sion show. He asked her what she thought was the greatest voice she’d ever heard, prob­ably ex­pecting her to name Pavarotti or Callas.

In­stead, she replied, “The young Elvis Presley, without any doubt.”


KiriTeKanawa ARainbowInTheSky LP 1970 600

In 1970, Kiri re­leased the album A RAINBOW IN THE SKY (Kiwi Records SLC-96), where she gave her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of con­tem­po­rary pop songs. this in­cluded Top 40 hits like Both Sides Now, Little Green Ap­ples, and Yes­terday. The cover art pre­sented her as a pop star, not a “se­rious” opera singer on the rise.

Without any doubt

At least that is how Ian Gillian of Deep Purple on the Blab­ber­mouth web­site ti­tled “Elvis Presley ‘Was The Greatest Singer That Ever Lived.” There Gillian claimed that Dame Te Kanawa had named Elvis as the greatest voice she’d ever heard. Un­for­tu­nately, that state­ment is at­trib­uted to an in­ter­view that Gillian gave Classic Rock (“The Home Of High Voltage Rock­’N’Roll”).

Type “Ian Gillian” into the search func­tion there and it took me to the Louder web­site (“To­gether we’re Louder”), which has a ter­rible search fea­ture that didn’t help me find the Gillian ar­ticle. Meaning I wasn’t able to find an orig­inal source for Gillian’s statement.

Next, I vis­ited Kiri­On­Line, the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Fan Site page on Face­book. There I left a pri­vate mes­sage which was re­turned by the site’s mod­er­ator, who prefers to re­main anony­mous. It read:

“Ap­par­ently she did say this in her in­ter­view with Parky in 1998. It’s the show that also had Dame Edna and Jaques Vil­leneuve as guests. But I only have parts of the ac­tual video in which she’s talking with the other guests, not the solo por­tion of her in­ter­view. It’s one I’ve been trying to get a com­plete copy of for years. When I do, I’ll post it on our YouTube channel.”

So, I am treating the mod­er­ator as an ex­pert here and taking her word here that, in fact, Dame Te Kanawa did, in, fact, name Elvis Presley as the greatest voice she’d ever heard.

’Nuff said?


KiriTeKanawa performing 1500 crop

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this age was lifted from an ar­ticle ti­tled “Downton Abbey Goes Op­er­atic” on the Ac­cess On­line web­site. In the se­ries’ fourth season, Te Kanawa ap­pears as Nellie Melba, a star of the opera in the early 20th cen­tury. To visit the Kiri­On­Line fan page on Face­book, click HERE.


Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000

POST­SCRIP­TU­ALLY, for more on world-renowned opera singers who were fans of Elvis, con­sider reading “Why The ‘Blue Note’ Makes Crossing Over At­tempts by Clas­sical Singers and Pop Singers a Losing Propo­si­tion” by Alain Rozan. He at­trib­utes com­pli­men­tary state­ments to Placido Domingo and Bryn Terfel.

Fi­nally, thanks to Vernon Smith who jump­started this ar­ticle with a com­ment on this blog on Jan­uary 7, 2020.


4 thoughts on “dame kiri te kanawa on the greatest voice she ever heard”

  1. NO! Not enuf said. The YOUNG Elvis! Afraid NOT! I read “Young” & it may as well of came from foghorn Dylan or Spring­CantS­ing­Steen. Sorry, the quote, if it even hap­pened, holds NO merit with me.

  2. Hi Neal,
    Who else could it be? Elvis tran­scends genre, cul­ture, and ge­o­graph­ical ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Only the best con­sis­tently praise the best.


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