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Hayley Westenra

Born in 1987, Hayley Westenra hails from New Zealand. Classically trained as both a singer and a dancer, she is a former member of the New Zealand Royal Ballet. Westenra's voice is an operatic instrument and she has performed with the New Zealand Opera and Orchestra. She made her recording debut at the age of 14 with a self-titled collection that took her country by storm. Universal International then released Pure, an eclectic and very engaging set of pop, classical, and sacred songs, which exploded all over the globe. Westenra's voice is unusually suited to popular music because, unlike other classical singers, she doesn't resort to using vibrato technique. Instead, her delivery is extremely clean and full, hitting notes effortlessly and letting them draw out naturally.

While critics have unfortunately compared her to Charlotte Church, Westenra's interpretive gifts lie in the same terrain as singers such as Kate Bush on one side (whose "Wuthering Heights" was Pure's first single) and Barbra Streisand on the other. After the runaway success of Pure, Westenra and her family moved to London, and she began nearly nonstop world touring in support of her album. She has performed at the British Classical Awards, guaranteeing her success in the U.K. Pure was issued in the United States in April 2004, and the music video for "Wuthering Heights" has garnered considerable play on VH1, underscoring well-received performances in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. In June 2004, Universal issued My Gift to You, a collection of Christmas and seasonal songs.

Westenra's second international album, Odyssey, was released in September 2005 and featured folk ballads as well as a wide selection of more pop-oriented compositions. Treasure, a personal collection of Irish and Maori folk songs, arrived in 2007, followed by the compilation River of Dreams: The Very Best of Hayley Westenra in 2008. The holiday-themed album Winter Magic appeared in 2009. Westenra returned in 2011 with her fifth international studio album, Paradiso. Working in collaboration with Ennio Morricone, the album featured songs especially written by Morricone for Westenra. Her sixth studio album, Hushabye -- a collection of classic children's lullabies -- was released in 2013. ~ Thom Jurek

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