but they can be developed.
If they're there to begin with. That is something, unlike a musical instrument, that can't be bought. Some vocal abilities can't even be developed. It's there or it's not. And no amount of hard work or sincere effort will get it for you.
I sing too. I'm not bad. Three years with a university chorale that ran the gamut from Gregorian chant to Cole Porter taught me a lot about performance and various vocal technique. It made me a vastly better singer than I was before. But I would never consider myself a vocalist first and foremost.
I suspect (no proof to offer on this btw) that probably something like 70% of all people could be taught to sing adequately, with a higher percentage of them being women rather than men. But that's not the same thing as considering them 'singers', any more than being able to accompany yourself on a guitar in a workmanlike manner automatically earns you the title of 'guitarist.'
There's that difference between talent and skill; and craft and art. Difficult, if not impossible, to define. But oh so obvious to almost anyone when they encounter it.
That's what I mean by a gift. Superb singers are gifted rather than merely talented.
(Does any of the above even make sense, I wonder? )
I keep meaning to get back to this, because I do agree, at least where it concerns the great ones. I would add one caveat, that a great voice alone can't make you a great singer any more than dexterity makes you a great drummer.
Ironically, I'm something of an anomaly, in the sense that I have both the gift and the ear, not to mention the good fortune to have received some first class training in my youth, but my Asperger's Syndrome, which actually adds to my music, makes it impossible for me to be a front man. It also makes it difficult, depending on the music even impossible, for me to sing and play at the same time.
However, on the subject of great singers, I can think of one in particular who illustrates your point perfectly, and that's Corey Glover of Living Colour. Given that every other member of the band could arguably be among the best in the world on his chosen instrument, it would be easy to dismiss Glover as less important,but that would be a huge mistake.
As impressive as it is for the rest of the band to smoothly move between playing R&B to heavy metal to hardcore to hip hop, they still have one huge advantage compared to him. He doesn't get to change instruments when he needs a different sound. What he was born with is what he's got. Arguably, it's even more than that since singing, even the most beautiful singing, actually damages your vocal chords. The fact he sounds amazing singing stuff influenced by, or even flat out copied from, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Bad Brains, Neil Young, and any number of other acts, is at least as impressive as anything you could say about the rest of the band.
Mostly I disagree, but for the truly great ones you're absolutely right.