A torch song is a sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love, either where one party is oblivious to the existence of the other, where one party has moved on, or where a romantic affair has affected the relationship. The term comes from the saying, "to carry a torch for someone", or to keep aflame the light of an unrequited love. Tommy Lyman started the use in his praise of "My Melancholy Baby." The term is also explicitly cited in the song "Jim", popularized by versions by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald: Someday, I know that Jim will up and leave me / But even if he does you can believe me / I'll go on carryin' the torch for Jim./ I'll go on lovin' my Jim.
Torch singing is more of a niche than a genre and can stray from the traditional jazz-influenced style of singing, although the American tradition of the torch song typically relies upon the melodic structure of the blues. Some examples of torch songs are "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (1927), "Body and Soul" (1930), "Down in the Depths" (1936), "Lili Marlene" (1938), "One for My Baby" (1943), "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" (1944), "Cry Me a River" (1953), "The Man That Got Away" (1954), "Ne me quitte pas" and "Here's That Rainy Day" (1959), "Rhythm of the Rain" (1962), "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (1965), "One Less Bell to Answer" (1970), "Losing My Mind" (1971), "I Will Always Love You" (1974), "And I Am Telling You" (1982), "Careless Whisper" (1984), "Kayleigh" (1985), "I Want You" (1986), "Wicked Game" (1990), "My All" (1997), "You're Beautiful" (2004), and "Every Time I Hear Your Name" (2005). “My Man” (2017) “I Have Questions” (2017)
Female singers of the pop vocal tradition are referred to as torch singers when their repertoire consists predominantly of material of that nature. Though torch songs were usually previously associated with female singers, the term has also been applied to male singers most notably Frank Sinatra, David Ruffin, Roy Orbison, Bill Withers, Jeff Buckley, Sam Smith and Chris Isaak.
Here is a list of popular female torch singers:
- Belle Baker (1893-1957)
- Libby Holman (1904-1971)
- Helen Morgan (1900-1941)
- Gertrude Niesen (1911-1975)
- Keely Smith (1928-2017)
- Billie Holiday
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Lana Del Rey
- Smith, L.: Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition, p. 9. Praeger Publishers, 2004.
- Allan Forte, M. R.: Listening to Classic American Popular Songs, p. 203. Yale University Press, 2001.
- Shanaphy, Edward (ed.). "My Melancholy Baby". Piano Stylings of the Great Standards. p. xi. ISBN 978-1-929009-14-5.
- Listening to Classic American Popular Songs, Allen Forte, Richard Lalli, Gary Chapman, 2001, p. 24: Books-Google-51.