Chances are that when you imagine what a male leader should sound like, you imagine them with a deep, booming, passionate voice. It is true there is some evidence to suggest that a deep voice is a crucial element to climbing theor being elected to office. However, it might surprise you to learn that some well-known male leaders sounded less like Mighty Mouse and more like Mickey Mouse. Here are 10 male leaders who had surprisingly high voices.
Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, was a Frankish king who is sometimes called “The Father of Europe.” He was a fierce warrior and conquered much of Western Europe. He united the Germanic people under the banner of Christianity. In AD 800, he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.
Charlemagne was a large, imposing man. Einhard, a Frankish scholar and contemporary of Charlemagne, described Charlemagne as “broad and strong in the form of his body and exceptionally tall” and “his appearance was impressive whether he was sitting or standing despite having a neck that was fat and too short, and a large belly.”
Given this description, it is somewhat surprising to learn that Charlemagne had a high-pitch, stuttering voice. Einhard, for his part, described Charlemagne’s voice as “clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect.” Based on these descriptions, Charlemagne seemed to have the body of a wrestler but the voice of a shy pre-teen.
9 George Washington
While Charlemagne is known as “The Father of Europe,” Washington is known as “The Father of America.” Like Charlemagne, Washington was a big, beefy guy. A contemporary in the 1750s described him as “measuring six feet two inches [188 cm] in his stockings and weighing 175 pounds. His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength.” Washington was also a military genius, well educated, personable, and dressed fashionably. These traits helped him become the first president of the United States.
Washington’s accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider that he sounded kind of like a wimp. This was due to several factors. When Washington was a child, he suffered from pleurisy (a viral infection that causes inflammation in the lining of the lungs), which caused him to develop a high-pitched, breathy voice.
Further, Washington’s mouth was a mess, with his teeth rotting away. This was not only unsightly but also caused horrible bad breath. Due to this, Washington avoided opening his mouth too wide when speaking. This was so he would not offend whoever he was talking to with a view of his bad teeth and a whiff of his smelly breath.
8 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was a towering figure in U.S. history, both figuratively and literally. A true physical specimen, Lincoln was 6’4″ (193 cm) of sinewy muscle. His athleticism and toughness are the stuff of legend. He was able to throw grown men like rag dolls, was unbeatable at wrestling, and loved playing sports right up until he was elected president at the age of 51. Once in office, he was faced with a United States that was at war with itself over the issue of slavery and was dangerously close to dissolving as a nation. Lincoln deftly guided the country back from the brink and won the war.
Lincoln was also well-known for his speaking skills, writing some of the most notable speeches in American history. However, Lincoln’s voice was shocking to those who heard him. His voice was described as “a thin tenor, or rather falsetto… almost as high-pitched as a boatswain’s whistle.” Others described his voice as “shrill” or “sharp.” This might have been an advantage, as his voice was also described as having “much carrying power, that could be heard a long distance in spite of the bustle and tumult of a crowd.”
7 George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver was a leading American agricultural scientist and one of the more prominent Black scientists of the 20th century. He introduced revolutionary ideas for replenishing depleted soil. He also strongly advocated for southern farmers to grow other crops besides cotton, such as sweet potatoes and peanuts. He was an early proponent of environmentalism. He traveled the country promoting his causes and became known as “The Peanut Man.” He left a lasting impression, not just due to his amazing ideas but also because of his shockingly high-pitched voice.
Carver’s voice was so high-pitched that a rumor began that he may have been castrated in his youth by his master. This is highly unlikely to be true. Instead, Carter’s high-pitched voice likely came from bouts of diphtheria when he was younger. His high-pitched voice was so unique that it is often deemed noteworthy enough to be mentioned alongside his other accomplishments.
6 Joseph Stalin
The history of brutal Russian dictator Joseph Stalin has been so exaggerated and rewritten that it is sometimes hard to nail down what is fact and what is propaganda. We do know that he was born in the country of Georgia. He came into power following the death of Vladimir Lenin and brutally purged all who opposed him. His policies caused widespread famine, as tens of millions of people were either savagely murdered or else starved to death under his rule. Stalin also styled himself as a wartime leader when he resisted Hitler’s invasion of Russia.
Stalin was very image conscious and worked hard to construct a cult of personality around some imaginary ideal of himself. He rarely appeared in public. He was very careful when being photographed to hide the fact that he was actually very short, standing only 5’4″. Stalin also had a voice actor record most of his speeches to conceal the fact that he had a high-pitched voice. In fact, he sang as a tenor. Far from being a Russian bear, he was more like a Russian mouse.
5 Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco was a Fascist dictator of Spain. Franco achieved his power by overthrowing the democratic republic of Spain in the Spanish Civil War. Like Stalin, once he achieved power, he brutally cracked down on any who opposed his Fascist government. Franco remained the autocratic ruler of his country until his death in 1975. In World War II, Franco kept Spain neutral in the beginning. He quickly changed his tune and began groveling to Hitler after the fall of Paris in 1940. Hitler reportedly found Franco to be very irritating, remarking he would “as soon have three or four teeth pulled out” than negotiate with him again.
As to what Hitler found annoying about Franco, Hitler may have seen Franco as a weak man since Franco was extremely short (5’3″ or 160 cm) and rail thin and also had a high, squeaky voice. While Hitler may have expected to be meeting with a macho fellow Fascist leader, Franco probably came off as more like an annoying Spanish-speaking Muppet.
4 George S. Patton
General George S. Patton was a highly decorated, successful American general in World War II who commanded allied forces in battles across northern Africa and Europe. He was a hard-nosed, hard-driving man with a no-nonsense approach to war and life. Patton was known for leading from the front, and he led his 3rd Army fearlessly across France and into Nazi Germany in the later days of the war. He died shortly after the war due to injuries from a car accident while still in Europe.
Patton was immortalized in the 1970 film bearing his name, with George C. Scott taking on the role of the legendary general. As a result, most people recall Scott’s voice when they imagine what Patton sounded like. However, that could not be further from the truth. While Scott had a deep, gravely voice, the real Patton had a surprisingly high-pitched voice. Patton himself claimed he compensated for his feminine-sounding voice by dropping a copious amount of F-bombs.
3 Walter Ulbricht
Walter Ulbricht was the chairman of communist East Germany. As seems to be the case with autocratic strongmen, Ulbricht ruthlessly crushed any who opposed him. After the death of Stalin in 1961, Ulbricht was able to resist the wave of de-Stalinization that swept Europe and keep East Germany firmly aligned with the former Russian dictator’s principles. Ulbricht held his position of power as supreme leader of East Germany until his death in 1973.
Ulbricht regularly recorded radio speeches dispensing communist rhetoric to the East German population. He did so in a curiously high-pitched voice. His voice was described as “fluting” or “sing-song.” Despite this, some East Germans became almost nostalgic for Ulbricht’s voice when compared to the grating vocals of his successor, Erich Honecker.
2 Augusto Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet rose to power in Chile after carrying out a bloody military coup in 1973. He ruled the country as a military dictator for nearly two decades. Like other dictators on this list, his reign was marked by brutal crackdowns, executions, and disappearances of those who opposed him. Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 for “crimes of genocide and terrorism.” He died in 2006 without ever standing trial for his crimes.
Pinochet’s speaking voice was perhaps only slightly higher than normal, but he was also well known for speaking in a very shrill tone. Most notably, when delivering speeches, his voice would often hit higher octaves. This theme of having a much higher voice when delivering speeches especially applies to our final entry.
1 Counterpoint: Adolph Hitler
When it comes to “shrill-voiced speakers,” a lot of people’s minds probably wander to Adolph Hitler. Hitler’s speeches were characterized by his shrill, angry, maniacal tone as he sought to rile up the crowds and keep them enthralled in his Nazi ideology. He is basically the embodiment of the “” trope.
However, Hitler had a secret. He was very careful about making sure that no one recorded him speaking in his normal voice. Despite this, there exists a single known recording of Hitler speaking in a conversational voice. The recording in question involves Hitler speaking to Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the military leader of Finland, in 1942. The recording was made in secret by a Finnish broadcasting engineer. When Hitler’s guards realized he was being secretly recorded, they surprisingly did not demand the tape be destroyed. They instead demanded it be “hidden away, never to be opened.”
The tape was kept from the public for nearly 15 years but was finally released in 1957. In contrast to his crazed, high-pitched voice when speaking to a crowd, Hitler’s conversational voice is deep, even, and almost smooth. Above, you can hear Adolph Hitler’s normal, rarely-heard speaking voice.