Famous Singers Who Suffered Serious Vocal Injuries

How Beloved Voices Go Silent

Frank Sinatra. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The following is an incomplete list of singers who reportedly had to cancel performances due to vocal injury, strain, or related issues. Most of these injuries were caused by the ways that these performers used their voices, and better self care or training could have prevented them.

Injuries include:

  • vocal hemorrhage/tears/bruises
  • vocal nodules/cysts/polyps
  • vocal granuloma

Most are caused by oversinging.

This can include singing too long and too loudly without sufficient rest, excessive use of vocal fry, and belting. Many well-trained singers develop issues; singing correctly too often can also cause injury. A single vocal trauma can cause career-affecting injury. Most of these could have been avoided by different singing techniques. Dehydration, smoking, genetics, aging, and other factors can exacerbate the problem.

Here are some beloved voices that were silenced due to injury.

  • Adele. Vocal hemorrhage. Cancelled a tour. Had surgery.
  • Julie Andrews. Throat nodules, and reportedly, further damage due to surgery to remove them. Permanent damage ensued, ending her singing career.
  • Björk. Vocal nodules. Spent three years doing special vocal exercises, so as to avoid surgery.
  • Mariah Carey. Vocal nodules.
  • Roger Daltry (the Who). Precancerous growth.
  • Natalie Dessay. Vocal nodules. Had surgery.
  • Celine Dion. Weakness in vocal cord, due to viral illness.
  • Lesley Feist. (No relation.)  Unspecified vocal cord damage. Took a six month hiatus; eventually changed her singing style.
  • Whitney Houston. Vocal nodules.
  • Elton John. Vocal nodules. Had surgery; his voice was noticeably deeper afterwards.
  • Shirley Manson (Garbage). Vocal nodules.
  • John Mayer. Vocal granuloma.  Cancelled tours, and took a two-year break from performing. Had surgery.
  • Freddie Mercury. Vocal nodules.
  • Frank Ocean. Vocal tear (or bruise).
  • Luciano Pavoratti. Vocal nodule. He decided to give up singing as a result, but soon recovered, and so resumed his career.
  • Frank Sinatra. Vocal nodules. Took a month-long vow of silence.
  • Paul Stanley (Kiss). Unspecified vocal injury.
  • Rod Stewart. Vocal nodules.
  • Joss Stone. Vocal nodules.
  • Justin Timberlake. Vocal nodules.
  • Steven Tyler (Aerosmith). Burst blood vessel.
  • Keith Urban. Polyp. Had surgery.

Honorable Mention

  • Beyonce. Dehydration and exhaustion. This is a whole-body health issue, and it can affect vocal performance. She had to cancel some concerts while she recovered.
  • Stevie Nicks. Her deviated septum is sometimes credited with changing her vocal quality. However, this was a rock and roll lifestyle injury, not technically a singing injury. It was unlikely to have affected her range and agility. It might have affected her timbre, though.

Singers, take care of yourselves! Get a good coach (such as through VocalizeU), and always pay attention to how it feels to sing. Backing off at the right time can mean the difference between a few days of rest, surgery, or ending your career, so take this seriously.

An excellent book about how to sing with healthy vocal technique is "Belting: A Guide to Healthy, Powerful Singing" by Jeannie Gagné (Berklee Press, 2015), which also has illustrative videos.

Jeannie's first book "Your Singing Voice" (Berklee Press, 2012) is also an excellent reference. [Author note: I edited both of these titles, and the recent publication of Belting was the inspiration for this article.] Jeanie has taught thousands of vocalists to sing with deep expression and healthy technique, primarily at Berklee College of Music.