Remembering Edward Herrmann: An Audiobook Tribute by Roger Ebert

AudiobookerThe last day of 2014 brought the sad loss of Tony-nominated, Emmy-winner Edward Herrmann, a much-beloved actor and favorite of audiobook listeners for his stellar narration of iconic spoken word titles. His multiple Audie Award nods and recognition as the voice of Booklist’s 2013 “Top of the List” Editors’ Choice audio The Boys on the Boat are but a few of the accolades he received for the 300-plus audiobooks he performed throughout his career.

Bernard Herrmann with Barbara Rosenblat at the Audies

Bernard Herrmann with Barbara Rosenblat at the Audies

I had the great pleasure meeting Mr. Herrmann at the Audie Awards celebration, and recently reviewed Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed (2014)—a perfect example of Mr. Herrmann’s exquisite skill in voicing nonfiction works.

AudioFile magazine had a short interview with Herrmann where he shared his thoughts on the art of audiobook narration, “It’s a very specialized art form. The voice is important in a way that it is not in film or television. The whole character and color of the emotional life of a scene must be conveyed by the voice of the actor alone. Wonderful—and challenging to do.”

Life Itself audiobook

Film Critic Roger Ebert offered a heart-felt tribute to Edward Herrmann—and audiobooks—in a 2011 blog post, My New Job. In His Own Words, a reflection on Herrmann’s narration of Ebert’s memoir Life Itself (2011). The entire post is must-reading for all audiobook fans, and includes this succinct definition of narration excellence:

Edward Herrmann is a pro. He positions the material in the foreground but he never tries to sell it. He brings it into existence clearly, concisely, with flawless control of timing and tone. It doesn’t sound as if he’s “reading.” It sounds like he might have had these memories—as if he’s confiding events and conversations he remembers. He’s friendly, but not like some affable uncle crowding you on the sofa. He doesn’t insist that we listen.

I’m so thankful we have his performances to remember.

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About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

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