The late Madeline Kahn (1942-1999) was one of the most talented women of the 20th century. She received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the first in 1974 for her performance as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon; the second the next year for Blazing Saddles, in her unforgettable turn as Lily Von Shtupp, "The Teutonic Titwillow." In this movie, she sings possibly the dirtiest song ever written that never actually mentions sex, "I'm Tired"
In fact, her comic performances for Mel Brooks are what she is most remembered for: Blazing Saddles,Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, and The History of the World, Part 1. She also did some brilliant work in early episodes of Saturday Night Live. If you have Netflix, check out her first appearance, from May 8, 1976. (Some of the clips are available on Hulu.) Her range is amazing: Marlene Dietrich, Pat Nixon, a twelve-year-old girl explaining sex to her friends at a pajama party, a film noire vamp singing "I Will Follow Him" with John Belushi's Jack Nicholsonesque private eye. There is also a sweet couple of minutes with Gilda Radner, which leads into Kahn singing this exquisite version of "Lost in the Stars" from Kurt Weill's musical of the same name (an adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, which just happens to be one of my favorite books). I remember watching this the first time it aired and, at the age of 14, being completely stunned. I've been looking for it again for 35 years. (I apologize for the poor quality of this clip. NBC is very stingy with their material, and this is the only version I have been able to find online, other than embedded in the complete SNL episode.)
Kahn was one of those people who got singing. What I mean is that, on top of a powerful voice with impressive range and lovely pitch, she knew how to present songs so that the lyric and music blended into a whole work of art, in the tradition of Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland, so that her singing became a true performance and a song-writer's dream. As funny as she was - and she was funny as all hell - this is what I love best about her as a performer. She could sing anything - from some blues to a duet with Sesame Street's Grover. Finally, here's a clip of her from the 1988 celebration of Irving Berlin's 100th birthday. Don't be surprised at how wonderful she is.