The Daily Apple

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Apple #158: The Voice of Voice Mail – March 27, 2006


Lorraine Nelson’s voice is probably the one most people have heard. She has provided the voice for Avaya’s Audix and Nortel’s phone systems. Chances are, at the place where you’re working right now, you’re using a system made by one of those two companies.

  • Ms. Nelson used to be a jazz deejay and a radio newscaster.
  • Now she runs her own company, Cornerstone Communications, in Portland, OR, whose primary purpose is to record messages using her voice.
  • All sorts of news articles keep saying she’s 47, but these articles have been published over the course of many years. Either it’s more accurate to say her voice is eternally 47, or I’m going to calculate that as of this date, she is now 52.
  • She says when she records herself saying things for voice mail systems, she is adopting a persona. “I’m not that nice,” she says.

Another female voice of voice mail is Dr.Joan Kenley. She has also done recordings for Nortel Networks, specifically for their Meridian and CallPilot systems. She is also the voice in National Semiconductor’s talking cash registers, cars, elevators, and other electronic equipment.

  • She is a former actor and since becoming a voice mail lady, has been a celebrity voice three times on The Simpsons.
  • She wrote a book published in 1989 called Whose Body is it Anyway? Smart Alternative and Traditional Health Choices for Your Total Well-Being.
  • Also in 1989, she published a book called Voice Power, about how to improve one’s speaking voice and empower one’s professional life.
  • She is also a licensed psychologist who specializes in women’s health and personal development.

Another woman who has recorded voice mail is Marsha Graham. She has provided the voice for Octel Communications’ systems since 1991.

  • She used to want to be a singer, but after years of frustration, she started doing voice-over work for commercials.
  • Then she auditioned for the Octel job and was chosen from among 60 finalists.
  • She says she spends hours in her recording studio, working to get just the right inflection or the right mix of professionalism and warmth.

Jane Barbe used to be the Time Lady, who said, “At the tone the time will be…” Her voice was also a nearly-ubiquitous voice mail voice in the 1980s and early 1990s.

  • She used to work for Octel (perhaps Marsha Graham took over after she stopped?), and once upon a time recorded messages for Electronic Telecommunications in Atlanta.
  • People sometimes wrote her letters to say they dialed the Time number to listen to her voice when they were lonely.
  • She grew up in Atlanta and learned in drama school at the University of Georgia how to remove regional inflections from her voice. Much later, when she was making recordings for companies across the country, she was asked to adopt many different types of accents.
  • Her voice will be heard no more, as she died of cancer in July of 2003.

Many of these women reported that they’ve often encountered their own voices asking them if they would like to leave a message, or to “press two.” Jane Barbe was quoted as saying, “Vocally, I get around.”


Patrick Larkin, – The voice heard by thousands,” The Cincinnati Post, March 21, 2000
Reed Tucker, – Who’s the Voice of Voice Mail?” Fortune, November 26, 2001
Cornerstone Communications, About Us
Joan Kenley, – Joan’s Info -What a job! The Voice You Love to Hate,Woman’s World, June 3, 1997 – Jane Barbe obituary, SouthCoastToday (online edition of The Standard Times), July 28, 2003

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