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Remembering Narrator Wanda McCaddon

When Wanda McCaddon died in December 2023 at the age of 91, we lost an effervescent spirit, a fine actress, and a chameleon-like audiobook narrator. McCaddon, an AudioFile Golden Voice, was one of those special narrators whose fans would listen to whatever she performed simply for the pleasure of hearing her voice. It was refined yet warm, with jewel-like enunciation and smart real-world pacing.

The Secret Scripture

Also known to audiobook listeners as Donada Peters and Nadia May—pseudonyms that blended the names of her parents and sister—the English-born McCaddon was a dynamo who worked in the travel industry before moving to New York City to become a news reporter. Still exploring options, McCaddon moved to Berkeley, California, for graduate school. Marriage, a son, and a teaching position at the University of California San Diego followed. Then, at last, McCaddon turned her attention to acting, and her soon-to-be fans were happy ever after.

In 1982, after helping to found the Bay Area’s One Act Theatre, McCaddon began to supplement her income by recording audiobooks in a soundproof home studio. For Books on Tape, she was Donada Peters, and for Blackstone Audio, she was Nadia May. “This was in the days when companies wanted to pretend their readers [narrators] were exclusive, but they weren’t about to pay for the privilege!” she told blogger Greg Jones in 2010. When she began to record under her own name, it felt naked. “I worried that fans would ignore me.” A needless worry with such listener comments as these: “She is possibly the most articulate and masterful user of the English language that I have ever heard” and “Nadia May / Donada Peters rocks! I pick books I’d never otherwise consider simply because she’s the narrator.”

The Guns of AugustMcCaddon’s son, Cameron, reports that his son made a friend after telling an acquaintance that his grandmother was a voice actor. “It turned out that she was the other kid’s favorite narrator! Her recording of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is what took her over the top.”

The quality of her performances is even more remarkable because she did not generally pre-read. As she explained to AudioFile in 1997, "I may skim through and make lists of foreign place names, but I studiously avoid noticing anything about the plot or the characters because I believe the reader's freshness in encountering each page is mirrored in the voice. If I'm not excited and wondering what happens next, my listeners won't be!"

Also, McCaddon almost never had to redo a section of recording. “So she could do an hour of recorded work in real time, which made the work profitable for her,” says Cameron McCaddon. “She told me once that her brain could take in the paragraph ahead of the paragraph she was reading, which is why she didn’t have to read in advance. She couldn’t explain how it worked, but she knew that she was very lucky.”

Nine Lessons

McCaddon’s wide range included nonfiction, classics, mysteries, and children’s books. Thus, from year to year, she turned in lauded performances of Barbara Tuchman’s THE GUNS OF AUGUST, Jane Austen’s SENSE SND SENSIBILITY, Nicola Upson’s NINE LESSONS, Sebastian Barry’s literary THE SECRET SCRIPTURE, E.M. Forster’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW, and Arundhati Roy’s THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, as well as, of course, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.

Producer Grover Gardner remembers McCaddon as a “great and witty person. She was a wonderful mentor to those of us getting into the business way back when. And she helped set that standard for smart, well-researched performances that still holds up today in a crowded field of talent.”

“My mother was ever confident,” says Cameron McCaddon, which may be why Golden Voice narrator Simon Vance describes her as a “very strong-willed Englishwoman who was not afraid to tell you her opinion.” Vance also has fond memories of the many gatherings that McCaddon and her husband, Julian, organized at their Bay Area home. “She was a wonderful host, a keen gardener, and a very good cook.”

Cameron McCaddon laughs in appreciation. “Growing up—your parents are just your parents. But looking back, I realize that she was a fabulous actress. She loved to perform behind the mic, on stage, and on the stage of life. She collected friends as if they were family and enjoyed nothing more than putting on a tremendous party for them, full of piano playing and the telling of funny anecdotes complete with all the voices. In the end, that’s what life was for her—a celebration worth sharing.”


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