Josephine Antoinette Estill: 1921-2010

Jo Estill, an American pioneer in the world of voice research and voice training, died peacefully on December 9, 2010 in Santa Rosa, California, at age 89. She is survived by daughter Alice Estill Miller, son-in-law Vernon J. Miller, granddaughter, Kelsey Diane Miller, brother, Dan Vadala of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and his family, Gail, Scott, Teri, Christopher, Khristine, Kellen and Chase Vadala.  She also leaves the legacy of the Estill Voice Model and Training methods, with over 150 certified voice teachers worldwide. Josephine Antoinette Vadala was born on April 25, 1921, in Donora, Pennsylvania. She was the first child of Joseph and Margaret (nee Fresa) Vadala.  Joseph, an Italian tailor, promoted Josephine’s innate talent for singing and music.  She often won youth singing competitions and sang classical music professionally on the radio in Pittsburgh from 1939–1940 at KQV.  She attended Oberlin Conservatory briefly before she moved to Pasadena, California, where her father made costumes for the movie industry.  She continued her professional career in 1940–1947 in Hollywood, singing for the CBS Radio Network.

Josephine moved to Colorado Springs for further voice studies and subsequently met and married Thomas Estill in 1948 a local businessman and arts enthusiast, 15 years her senior. In 1949, they had daughter, Alice Antoinette Estill.  Soon thereafter, she sang several classical concerts with the Denver Businessmen’s Chorus. In 1953, financed by Thomas Estill and her brother, Dan Vadala, she launched a European solo concert tour with venues including The Hague, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, London, Zurich, Geneva and Paris. With stellar reviews, she was poised for a professional classical music career when her tour was cut short by her husband’s heart attack in 1954. They later divorced in 1957.

“Josie” continued to sing as a soloist with the Colorado Springs Chorale, Air Force Academy Chorus, Colorado Springs Symphony and local churches for the next 13 years.  She performed the roles of Dido, Sr. Angelica, Aida, Tosca, and others with the Colorado Springs Opera.  During this time she worked as a bookkeeper for the Air Force Academy and raised her daughter, Alice.  Many of her live and studio performances were recorded by KRCC radio engineer Bud Edmunds, who replayed them on air. Alice later compiled Jo’s recordings into a 4-CD set “On Wings of Song” (2009).

In 1966, Jo returned to college for her BA in Music Education.  As adjunct Instructor in Voice with the Colorado College Music Department, she discovered a need for quality vocal education materials that planted the seeds for the future of Estill Voice Training™. In 1969, Jo received a BA in Liberal Arts from Colorado College. In 1971, she obtained an MA in Music Education from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. While at Case Western, Jo minored in Speech and Hearing, marking her introduction to voice science. Upon beating colon cancer at Case (age 51), she vowed to pursue voice science research to bring closure and meaning to her life experiences.

From 1972–1979, Jo was employed as a research associate in the Department of Otolaryngology, at the Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, New York. She worked under Dr. Ray Colton, and Dr. David Brewer, two of the top voice researchers in the United States and began her pioneering research on six voice qualities: speech, falsetto, sob, twang, opera, and belt. The team of Colton, Brewer and Estill presented many papers on their research to the ‘Care of the Professional Voice’ conferences of the Voice Foundation in New York City as well as to other professional associations throughout the world. She subsequently published over 40 professional articles reporting on her scientific studies of the voice.

Between 1980-1984, Jo completed her PhD course work at the City University of New York, and continued formulating the revolutionary Estill Voice Model.  Based in Manhattan, she worked on a variety of research projects with key leaders in the fields of voice science all over the world.  She concurrently taught seminars for performers and others in her voice method which transformed sophisticated research concepts into accessible and meaningful vocal exercises.  She often used videos, laboratory data and later endoscopy of the students’ own vocal tracts to improve their understanding and provide them with useful feedback.

Jo’s success in teaching and research led to the formal development of Estill Voice Training™.  With her family, Jo founded ‘Estill Voice Training Systems LLC’ in 1992 to protect her work and certify instructors. She produced a variety of materials for use by voice instructors, whom she tested herself, to ensure their understanding and ability to teach her method. Her travelling schedule became more intense as her success with the Estill Model became known, and her ideas came into favor in both scientific and artistic communities.

In 1997, she moved from New York City to Santa Rosa, California, to live near her family.  She continued to travel, however, and flew entirely around the globe, giving seminars and doing research.  By 2003 at the age of 82, suffering from arthritis, she retired.  Her many devoted students came to Santa Rosa to celebrate her work in what became the First Estill World Voice Symposium. In June 2004, the business was sold to a partnership known today as Estill Voice International, LLC.

On September 10, 2004, Estill was awarded an Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Letters LittD, from the University of East Anglia in a ceremony in London’s Covent Garden. She was also named Honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. In 2005, she attended the 2nd Estill World Voice Symposium in Orlando, Florida.  In retirement, she continued to be a secondary author on various scientific papers, but also led a sing-along group for seniors and made quilts.   In 2007, Jo was honored in Boulder, Colorado at a gala performance by the ARS Nova Singers, an exceptional choir trained in the Estill Voice Model.

In honor of her extraordinary life and accomplishments, we have created this not-for-profit organization to further her legacy.