Sarah Vaughan’s richly expressive voice has held the jazz world in thrall for more than four decades. Vaughan’s recordings and live performances convey a physical delight in singing as well as an artist’s sensitivity to the complicated harmonies and rhythms of modern jazz. As Louie Robinson notes in Ebony, however, the “delicious elegance” of Sarah Vaughan “has always been a little too rich for the masses to digest. You can sing along with Mitch Miller, but how in the world do you match the undulating flights of one of the most remarkable voices of the century?” Indeed, Vaughan long ago gave up trying to market herself to a pop audience, opting instead to create a body of work she could be proud to perform. She has thereby earned the highest critical regard, and the appreciation, to quote Robinson, of “those with the … taste and musical knowledge to appreciate the vocal miracles she performs night after night, year after year.”
In a down beat magazine profile of Vaughan, composer Günther Schuller deemed the singer the “greatest vocal artist of the century.” Schuller claimed that Vaughan’s “is a perfect instrument, attached to a musician of superb instincts, capable of expressing profound human experience, with a wholly original voice.” Saturday Review contributor Martin Williams expresses a similar opinion. “Sarah Vaughan is in several respects the jazz singer par excellence,” Williams contends, “and therefore she can do things with her voice that a trained singer knows simply must not be done. She can take a note at the top of her range and then bend it or squeeze it; she growls and rattles notes down at the bottom of her range; she can glide her voice over through several notes at mid-range while raising dynamics, or lowering, or simply squeezing.” This vocal experimentation meshes perfectly with the improvisational freedom of bebop and jazz. “Only once in each generation come a voice like this,” claims Dave Garroway in The Jazz Titans, “one artist who brings a new approach, a new way of communicating the emotions which stir every soul.”
An only child, Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1924. Both of her parents enjoyed making music in their spare time—her carpenter father as a guitarist and piano player, her mother as a singer with the local Baptist church choir. Sarah herself joined the choir as soon as she was able, and she took piano and organ lessons from the age of eight. Gospel music was not young Sarah’s only passion, however. She has admitted to sneaking into neighborhood bars during her teens to hear jazz played by visiting performers. She also played piano in the jazz band at Newark’s Arts High School, where, as she told down beat, she “learned
Full name Sarah Lois Vaughan; born March 27, 1924, in Newark, N.J.; daughter of Asbury (a carpenter) and Ada (a laundress; maiden name Baylor) Vaughan; married George Treadwell (a trumpeter), 1947 (divorced, 1956); married Clyde B. Atkins (a businessman), 1959 (divorced, 1968); married Marshall Fisher (a restaurant owner), 1971 (divorced, 1977); married Waymon Reed, 1978; children: Deborah (adopted). Education: Graduate of Arts High School, Newark, N.J.
Singer, 1942—. Signed with the Earl Hines Orchestra, 1942, made debut with Hines, April 23, 1943, singing and playing piano; joined Billy Eckstine Band, 1944, and John Kirby Orchestra, 1945; solo performer and recording artist, 1945—. Cut first solo album for Continental Records, 1945; signed with Columbia Records, 1949, switched to Mercury Records, 1953, and Mainstream Records, 1972.
Released hit singles “C’est la Vie,” “The Banana Boat Song,” “Smooth Operator,” and “Broken-Hearted Melody,” among others, 1953–59; appeared in feature films Murder, Inc., 1950, Disc Jockey, 1951, and Harlem Follies, 1955. Has made guest appearances with numerous bands and orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Count Basie Orchestra.
Recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, 1983, and induction into down beat magazine’s Hall of Fame, 1985.
to take music apart and analyze the notes and put it back together again.”
Vaughan was only eighteen when, on a friend’s dare, she entered an amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. She won the contest—and a week’s engagement at the Apollo—with a jazz rendition of “Body and Soul.” Vaughan told down beat that she feels she became famous not because of rigorous training but because she was in the right place at the right time. “I was going to be a hairdresser before I got into show business,” she said. “I always wanted to be in show business, and when I got in, I didn’t try. I just went to the amateur hour, and in two weeks I was in show business. It shocked me to death and it took me a long time to get over that.” Vaughan’s week at the Apollo had not run its course before she was discovered by Billy Eckstine, a young singer with the Earl Hines Orchestra. Eckstine persuaded Hines to hire Vaughan, and her career was launched. She had her professional debut April 23, 1943, as a singer and second pianist for Hines.
The following year, Billy Eckstine formed his own band, and Vaughan joined him. Eckstine’s was one of the first major bebop groups, and through his aegis Vaughan met Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, two jazz pioneers who were to have great influence on her style. It was Gillespie, in fact, who landed Vaughan her first solo recording contracts with Continental and Musicraft Records. Together Vaughan and Gillespie cut “Lover Man,” her first song to receive national attention. Subsequent Vaughan singles “Don’t Blame Me” and “I Cover the Waterfront” also attracted favorable review.
Vaughan became a solo performer in 1945, and in 1947 she married trumpeter George Treadwell. Under Tread-well’s management, Vaughan blossomed from a shy, gap-toothed, awkward young woman into a sophisticated and elegant performer. She began earning top billing at prestigious clubs in Chicago and New York, and by 1950 she was selling an estimated three million records annually. Still, Vaughan had to undergo the same sort of bigotry other black performers faced—inadequate or nonexistent dressing rooms in the white clubs, segregated restaurants, and occasional alley beatings by gangs of hoodlums. She was even pelted with tomatoes once during a performance at a Chicago theatre. Aware that only a small percentage of her audience was hostile, however, Vaughan persisted, constantly experimenting with her vocal range until, as Williams puts it, “fewer and fewer popular songs could contain her.”
In 1953 Vaughan signed with Mercury Records and embarked on a short but successful pop career. By 1959 she had made the Billboard charts with songs like “C’est la Vie,” “Mr. Wonderful,” “The Banana Boat Song,” “Smooth Operator,” and the million-selling “Broken-Hearted Melody.” Most singers struggle valiantly for chart-topping hits, but Vaughan did not like the direction her career was taking. “The record companies always wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do,” she told down beat. “‘Sarah, you don’t sell sell many records,’ they’d say Broken Hearted Melody came up. God, I hated it. I did that in the ’50s and everybody loves that tune. It’s the corniest thing I ever did.” Eventually Vaughan decided to follow her own instincts, and, as James Liska notes in down beat, the material to which she lent her talent emerged “with the inimitable Sarah Vaughan stamp clearly on it—a stamp which seems to just happen.”
Since the mid-1970s Vaughan has earned a comfortable six-figure income from recordings and live shows. She has appeared everywhere from the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to the Las Vegas showrooms, and she has performed privately for several presidents in America and Europe. In his book Jazz People, Dan Morgenstern calls Vaughan “essentially a private person” who “has never been involved in notoriety and has no… peculiarities.” Morgenstern adds: “She might have become a great gospel or classical singer, but it is doubtful that her imagination and inventiveness could have unfolded elsewhere as fully as it has in jazz.” Robinson concludes that Vaughan’s style “is not one to go with electrified guitars, 8, 000 watts of amplification and a lyric which can only be understood if you’re reading along on the record jacket…. And there is the heart of the matter. Sarah is not made to be danced to or finger-popped to but to be listened to. That superb contralto voice that ranges over three octaves with the ease of a Maria Callas and the soul of a Harriet Tubman commands a listener’s respect.”
Robinson need not worry. Vaughan has never lacked respectful listeners among those who appreciate innovative work. The singer told down beat that she is grateful for just the sort of quiet popularity that she has achieved. “It’s unbelievable, that’s what it is, that everybody likes me as well as they do,” she said. “I still can’t believe it…. I’ve been singing all my life and I’ve never really thought about anything else…. But I’m the same way now that I was when I was 18. I don’t go for that star stuff…. All the stars are in heaven.”
After Hours, Columbia.
The Divine One, Roulette.
The Divine Sarah, Musicraft.
Duke Ellington Song Book One, Pablo.
Duke Ellington Song Book Two, Pablo.
Echoes of an Era, Roulette.
Feel in’ Good, Mainstream.
Golden Hits, Mercury.
How Long Has This Been Going On?, Pablo.
I Love Brazil!, Pablo.
In the Land of Hi-Fi, Emarcy.
Live in Japan, Mainstream.
More from Japan Live, Mainstream.
My Kinda Love, Emarcy.
Sarah Vaughan, Emarcy.
Sarah Vaughan: Volume One, Archive of Folk Music.
Sarah Vaughan: Volume Two, Archive of Folk Music.
Sarah Vaughan: Volume Three, Archive of Folk Music.
Send in the Clowns, Pablo.
Swingin’ Easy, Emarcy.
Time in My Life, Mainstream.
Current Biography, Wilson, 1957 and 1980.
Gelly, Dave, The Giants of Jazz, Schirmer, 1986.
Morgenstern, Dan, Jazz People, Prentice-Hall, 1976.
Reisner, Robert George, The Jazz Titans, Da Capo, 1977.
After Dark, September, 1976.
down beat, March 2, 1961, May, 1982.
Ebony, April, 1975, April, 1978.
New York Post, June 29, 1974.
Saturday Review, August 26, 1967.
Washington Post, April 19, 1976.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Vaughan, Sarah 1924–1990
Sarah Vaughan 1924–1990
Singer and pianist
In the 1940s, when most women singers adorned big bands as stage attractions rather than legitimate members of jazz ensembles, Sarah Vaughan, along with her predecessor Ella Fitzgerald, helped to elevate the vocalist’s role as equal to that of the jazz instrumentalist. A woman known for her many vicissitudes, Vaughan, known for her outspoken personality and artistic eloquence, earned the sobriquets “Sassy” and “The Divine One”—the latter a name coined by Chicago disc jockey Dave Garroway. A talented pianist, she joined the ranks of the 1940s bebop movement and became, as a member of the Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine bands, one of its most celebrated vocalists. Her dynamic vocal range, sophisticated harmonic sense, and horn-like phrasing brought Vaughan million-selling numbers and a stage and recording career that spanned half a decade.
Sarah Lois Vaughan was born the daughter of Asbury and Ada Vaughan on March 27,1924, in Newark, New Jersey. As a youth Vaughan took piano lessons and attended the Mount Zion Baptist Church, where she served as a church keyboardist. Though a religious man, Vaughan’s father, known by the family as Jake, spent evenings playing simple blues-style numbers on guitar. At home Vaughan played the family’s upright piano and listened to the recordings of jazz artists Count Basie and Erskine Hawkins. After discovering Newark’s numerous theaters and movie houses, she skipped school and left home at night to watch dances and stage shows. By age 15, she performed at local clubs, playing piano and singing. Slight in figure and sloppily dressed, she nevertheless made a favorable impression on the night crowd.
Not long after, Vaughan took the train across the river to Harlem to frequent the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theatre. One evening, in 1943, she sat in at the Apollo amateur show, a fiercely competitive contest that often exposed lesser talents to the harsh criticism of the theater’s audience. Vaughan’s moving performance of “Body and Soul” not only brought a fever of applause from the crowd, it astounded singer Billy Eckstine who told Max Jones in Talking Jazz, “I couldn’t believe … what I was listening to.” He further related, “Right afterwards I went backstage, and grabbed her, [and] said: ‘Look here, I want to talk to you.’ She was just as
Born Sarah Lois Vaughan on March 27, 1924, in Newark, Nj; died of lung cancer, April 4, 1990; daughter of Asbury (a carpenter) and Ada (a laundress) Vaughan; married George (a musician) Treadwell, 1946, (divorced 1958); married Clyde B. (former professional athlete) Atkins, 1958, (divorced 1968); married Way-mon Reed (musician), 1978.
Won talent contest at Apollo Theatre in October 1943; joined the band of Earl Mines in April 1943; became member of the Billy Eckstine Orchestra in 1944; performed with the sextet of John Kirby 1945-46; from 1946 onward performed as a solo act; signed a five-year contract with Columbia, 1949; recorded on Mercury label 1954-59; scored first million-selling hit with “Broken-Hearted Melody” in 1958; recorded on Roulette, Mercury, and Columbia labels 1960-67; recorded for the Pablo label in 1980s; recorded a album of Latin songs, 1987.
Selected awards: Emmy Award, for individual achievement, 1981; Grammy Award for best jazz vocalist, 1982; Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, 1985; Grammy Award, for lifetime achievement, 1989.
naive and scared as she could be: right away she figured somebody was giving her a big deal.”
Eckstine informed his bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines about the young singer. Hines then allowed Vaughan to attend the band’s uptown band rehearsal. At the rehearsal, Vaughan’s singing won immediate praise from Hines and his musicians. (Though Vaughan upheld Eckstine’s account, Hines later claimed that he discovered the young singer and brought her into the band.)
One of the premiere modern big bands of the era, Hines’s ensemble included such talents as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro, saxophonist Charlie Parker, and trombonist J. J. Johnson. As the only female bandmember, Vaughan shared the vocal spotlight with Eckstine and played piano, often in duet settings with Hines. Vaughan debuted at the Apollo with Hines’s band on April 23, 1943. In Profiles in Jazz, Vaughan recounted her stint with Hines: “How lucky I was. That’s the best experience I’ll ever have… Everything was new to me. I never had so much fun.” Commenting on the educational value of the Hines band she added, in To Be, or Not to Bop that “I really didn’t have to go to Julliard [music school], I was right there in it.”
Not long after, most of Hines’s modernist sidemen, including Gillespie, Parker, and Eckstine, gradually left the band. Vaughan remained briefly with Hines’s band until she accepted an invitation to join Eckstine’s newly-formed bebop big band in 1944. In December of that year, she cut her first side “I’ll Wait and Pray,” backed by the Eckstine band, which included Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons, and pianist John Malachi. Years later, in To Be, Or Not to Bop, Vaughan recalled the high caliber of musicianship and demanding expectations of the Eckstine band, commenting, “It was a very rough band. They kept me in order. I’m telling you they used to beat me to death if I got out of line.”
Through the intercession of jazz writer and pianist Leonard Feather, Vaughan recorded her first date as a leader for the small Continental label. Under the production of Feather, Vaughan and Her All-Stars attended their session on New Year’s Eve 1944. Acting as the session’s producer and pianist, Feather assembled such sidemen as Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Géorgie Auld to cut four sides: “Signing Off,” Feather’s “No Smoke Blues,” Gillespie’s “Interlude” (a vocal version of “Night in Tunisia”), and “East of the Sun,” on which Gillespie replaced Feather on keyboard.
On a second session, Feather relinquished the piano duties to Nat Jaffe, and brought together Gillespie and Charlie Parker. As Feather recalled in The Jazz Years, “We had a strong rhythm section with Bill De Arango, Curly Russell, and Max Roach. Sarah already was offering proof that ballads were her forte: Peggy Lee’s song ‘What More Can a Woman Do?’ seemed made for her.”
After a nearly year-long stay with the Eckstine band, Vaughan left the band. With the exception of a job with the sextet of bassist and trombonist John Kirby in the winter of 1945, she performed as a solo act. On May 11,1945 she recorded “Lover Man” with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In October of 1945 Vaughan signed with Musicraft label, and, in the same month, recorded for the label with jazz violinist Stuff Smith’s group. Her Musicraft 1946 recording of Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” is considered a modern classic. She also recorded with the bands of Dickie Wells and Georgie Auld.
Throughout this time, Vaughan worked at the Cafe Society Downtown in Greenwich Village, where she met a handsome trumpeter, George Treadwell, who had performed in the bands of drummer J. C. Heard, Lucky Millinder, and Cootie Williams. Married to Tread-well in September of 1946, Vaughan entered into a period that, as Barry Ulanov described in A History of Jazz, “seemed balanced, burgeoning, brightly burdened,” as Vaughan’s manager Treadwell set out to improve his wife’s image and on-stage appearance. Though the couple began the marriage in good financial stead, over the next decade Treadwell’s management of Vaughan’s bookings and personal accounts nearly devastated her career.
Hailed by Metronome magazine as the “Influence of the Year” in 1948, Vaughan rose to jazz stardom. In the following year, she signed a five-year contract with Columbia and recorded her classic “Black Coffee” with the Joe Lippman Orchestra—a number that climbed to number 13 on Billboard’s pop charts. For Columbia she recorded in various settings and attended two sessions that emerged as the albums Summertime, with the Jimmy Jones band, and Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi, both of which featured trumpeter Miles Davis. As Leslie Gourse observed in Sassy, “[Vaughan] was now presenting herself as a pop singer who could do popular ballads in a straightforward style, the soft, sultry sound of her voice unfurling with hypnotic effect, moving with ease between her soprano and contralto registers.” During the next year, Vaughan made her first trip to Europe. During her stay in England she sang to enthusiastic audience at Royal Albert Hall.
In 1954, Vaughan signed a contract with the Mercury label and recorded numerous sides primarily in orchestral settings. In December of the same year, her trio—pianist Jimmy Jones, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Roy Haynes—joined 24-year-old trumpet talent Clifford Brown, saxophonist Paul Quinichette, and flutist Herbie Mann to record the LP Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.Surrounded by first-rate musicians sensitive to her vocal talent, Vaughan produced an album that, as the author to the original LP’s notes wrote, “It is doubtful whether anyone, including Sarah herself, is likely to be able to find any more completely satisfying representation of her work, or any more appropriate musical setting than are offered in this LP. These sides are sure to rank among the foremost achievements of her decade as a recording artist.”
During a stint at Chicago’s Mr. Kelly’s nightclub in August of 1957, Vaughan recorded a live album with her trio: pianist Jimmy Jones, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Roy Haynes. In the following year, she and pianist Ronnell Bright recorded with the Count Basie Band and took part in a session in Paris under the direction of orchestra leader and conductor Quincy Jones, issued as the Mercury LP, Vaughan and Violins.
In 1958, Vaughan divorced George Treadwell and entered into a stormy marriage with former professional football player and taxicab company owner, Clyde B. Atkins. Without experience in the music field, Atkins briefly, and unsuccessfully, served as her manager. Despite the ultimate setbacks experienced through her marriage with Atkins, Vaughan began her marriage with a yearly income of $230,000. In July of the following year, she scored her first million-selling hit, “Broken Hearted Melody,” with the Ray Ellis Orchestra. A hit with both black and white audiences, “Broken Hearted Melody,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award, reached number five on the pop R&B charts.
“The vocal range Sarah had developed by this time,” observed Bruce Crowther in The Jazz Singers, “was making her difficult to categorize, and also possibly a mite daunting to her accompanists. The dexterity with which she uses her voice—which many an opera singer envies for its range, power and superb texture—is quite remarkable and sometimes appears to demand a full orchestral backing. Yet, when accompanied by musicians as tastefully inventive as herself, she can turn in delightful and thoughtful jazz performances with just a handful of kindred spirits.”
When Vaughan’s contract with Mercury ended in the fall of 1959, she signed with Roulette Records and became, over the next few years, one the label’s biggest stars. Her 1960 sessions for Roulette included The Divine One, arranged by Jimmy Jones and a session with Count Basie Band featuring such talents as trumpeters Thad Jones and Joe Newman and saxophonists Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell. Featured in duet numbers with singer Joe Williams, the Basie Band session produced the sides, “If I Were a Bell” and “Teach Me Tonight.”
In the film documentary Masters of American Music, Williams described Vaughan’s vocal talent: “What a fresh, and really fresh sound, nothing like Ella [Fitzgerald], and nothing like Billie Holiday. She had tone, and a pitch, and musicianship that was always different from anybody else.” The duets recorded with Williams, along with several arrangements recorded with the Basie Band in January of 1961, were complied as the album Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie.In the LP’s liner notes James Gavin noted, “Certainly few albums contain greater proof that Vaughan was an instrumentalist at heart.”
Vaughan signed with Mercury again in 1963. Her recorded work in the 1960s featured the ensembles of Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, and Gerald Wilson. Her trio accompanists included noted pianists Roland Hanna and Bob James. Vaughan debuted on the Mainstream record label with the 1971 LP A Time in Life —a work arranged and conducted by Ernie Wilkins. On her 1977 live recording at Ronnie Scott’s in the Soho section of London, Vaughan produced a classic with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”
At age 54, Vaughan married 38-year-old Waymon Reed whom she appointed musical director and road manager of her group. That same year, she recorded an album backed by pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Louie Bellson. Recorded with an-star line up, she devoted two albums, in 1979, to the music of Duke Ellington, Duke Ellington Songbook One and Duke Ellington Songbook Two.Though she had been nominated for Grammy Awards several times, including a nomination for her 1979 effort I Love Brazil, Vaughan did not win her first Grammy until 1982 for Gershwin Live!.
Throughout the 1980s Vaughan recorded on the Pablo label, often with the label’s featured artists Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Dizzy Gillespie. As she told Max Jones in Talking Jazz. “Now that I’ve been in so long, you know, I can work with whom I want to. I have more say-so now over what jobs I do and how I want to do them.” During a trip to Brazil in 1987, she recorded the CBS album Brazilian Romance and afterward appeared at a festival in Rio de Janeiro. On her last recording—Quincy Jones’s all-star 1989 album Back on the Block —she sang with Ella Fitzgerald on the introduction of “Birdland.” In February, of the same year, she received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.
A tireless live performer who still maintained a fine voice, Vaughan showed little signs of artistic diminution. Offstage, however, band members began to notice the slowed pace of her walk and her shortness of breath. Diagnosed with lung cancer she underwent chemotherapy treatment. Sadly, she died on April 4, 1990.
Jazz artists and critics have described Sarah Vaughan as a musical innovator whose voice reached the level of the finest jazz instrumentalists. In Talking Jazz, singer Betty Carter told how “Sarah Vaughan took those melodies and did something with them. She opened the door to do anything you wanted with a melody.” From her first appearances on the jazz scene in the early 1940s until her death, Vaughan’s voice became a model of excellence and an inspiration of those venturing to strive beyond the role of popular vocal entertainer and into the higher realm of musical artistry.
Lullaby of Birdland, Mercury/Emarcy, 1954.
In the Land of Hi-fi, Mercury/Emarcy, 1955.
Sassy, Mercury/Emarcy, 1956.
No Count Sarah, Mercury/Emarcy, 1958.
Sarah Vaughan, Hindsight, 1961.
Sarah Vaughan-Michel Legrand, Mainstream, 1972.
A Time in My Life, Mainstream, 1972.
How Long Has This Been Going On?, Pablo, 1978.
Live in Japan, Mainstream, 1973.
Copacabana, Pablo, 1981.
Crazy and Mixed Up, Pablo, 1982.
Brazilain Romance, CBS, 1987.
Sarah Vaughan, Verve, 1987.
Sarah Vaughan Live!, Verve, 1987.
Sarah Vaughan, 16 Most Requested Songs, Columbia, 1993.
Afterhours, Collectors Series.
Classy Sassy, Pair.
Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, Roulette.
Deep Purple, Columbia.
Duke Ellington Songbook Number 1 and 2, Pablo.
Sarah Vaughan and Her Trio Live at Mr. Kelly’s, Mercury/Emarcy.
Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, Mercury/Emarcy.
Swingin’ Easy, Mercury/Emarcy.Vaughan and Violins, Mercury/Emarcy.
“I’ II Wait and Pray,” with Billy Eckstine, Deluxe, 1944.
“Mean to Me” and “Lover Man,” with Dizzy Gillespie, Guild, 1945.
“It Might as Well as Be Spring,” with John Kirby, Crown, 1946.
Dizzy Gillespie, Groovin ‘ with Diz & Co., Black Label, Inc., 1991.
A Jazz Session, A Vision Entertainment.
Crowther, Bruce, The Jazz Singers: From Ragtime to the New Wave, Blanford Press, 1986.
Feather, Leonard, Inside Jazz, Da Capo,1977.
Feather, Leonard, The Jazz Years: Eyewitness to an Era, Da Capo, 1987.
Gillespie, Dizzy, with Al Fraser, To Be, or Not to Bop, Doubleday and Co., 1979.
Gourse, Leslie, Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1993.
Jones, Max, Talking Jazz, MacMillan Press, 1987.
Sidran, Ben, Talking Jazz, 43 Conversations, Da Capo, 1995. Ulanov, Barry, A History of Jazz in America, Viking, 1952.
The Black Perspective in Music, fall 1979.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, and the 1993 Bravo film documentary Masters of American Music Series.
March 29, 1924
April 3, 1990
Nicknamed "Sassy" and "the Divine One," Sarah Vaughan is considered one of America's greatest vocalists and part of the triumvirate of women jazz singers that includes Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) and Billie Holiday (1915–1959). A unique stylist, she possessed vocal capabilities—lush tones, perfect pitch, and a range exceeding three octaves—that were matched by her adventurous, sometimes radical sense of improvisation. Born in Newark, New Jersey, she began singing and playing organ in the Mount Zion Baptist Church when she was twelve.
In October 1942, Vaughan sang "Body and Soul" to win an amateur-night contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Billy Eckstine (1914–1993), the singer for Earl "Fatha" Hines's big band, happened to hear her and was so impressed that he persuaded Hines to hire Vaughan as a second pianist and singer in early 1943. Later that year, when Eckstine left Hines to organize his own big band, Vaughan went with him. In his group, one of the incubators of bebop jazz, Vaughan was influenced by Eckstine's vibratolaced baritone, and by the innovations of such fellow musicians as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Besides inspiring her to forge a personal style, they instilled in her a lifelong desire to improvise. ("It was just like going to school," she said.)
Vaughan made her first records for the Continental label on New Year's Eve 1944, and she began working as a solo act the following year at New York's Cafe Society. At the club she met the trumpeter George Treadwell, who became her manager and the first of her four husbands. Treadwell promoted Vaughan and helped create her glamorous image. Following hits on Musicraft (including "It's Magic" and "If They Could See Me Now") and Columbia ("Black Coffee"), her success was assured. From 1947 through 1952, she was voted Top Female Vocalist in polls in Down Beat and Metronome jazz magazines.
Throughout the 1950s, Vaughan recorded pop material for Mercury Records, including such hits as "Make Yourself Comfortable" and "Broken-Hearted Melody" and songbooks (like those made by Ella Fitzgerald) of classic American songs by George Gershwin and Irving Berlin; she also recorded jazz sessions on the EmArcy label (Mercury's jazz label) with trumpeter Clifford Brown, the Count Basie Orchestra, and other jazz musicians. By the mid-1960s, frustrated by the tactics of record companies trying to sustain her commercially, Vaughan took a five-year hiatus from recording. By the 1970s, her voice had become darker and richer.
Vaughan was noted for a style in which she treated her voice like a jazz instrument rather than as a conduit for lyrics. A contralto, she sang wide leaps easily, improvised sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic melodic and rhythmic lines, and made full use of timbral expressiveness—from clear tones to bluesy growls with vibrato. By the end of her career, she had performed in more than sixty countries, in small boîtes and in football stadiums, with jazz trios as well as symphony orchestras. Her signature songs, featured at almost all of her shows, included "Misty," "Tenderly," and "Send In the Clowns." She died of cancer in 1990, survived by one daughter.
Azrai, Ahmad. "Sublimely 'Sassy'." Asia Africa Intelligence Wire,July 1, 2003.
Jones, Max. "Sarah Vaughan." In Talking Jazz New York: W.W. Norton, 1988, pp. 260–265.
"Sarah Vaughan." Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 13. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1996.
bud kliment (1996)
Sarah Vaughan (Sarah Lois Vaughan), 1924–90, American jazz singer, b. Newark, N.J. Nicknamed
she studied piano and organ, began singing in her church choir, and won (1942) the famous amateur contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Subsequently, she sang with bands led by Earl
Hines, Billy Eckstine, and John Kirby. During this period she was also associated with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, learning much from their bop horn stylings. From 1947 on, Vaughan worked as a soloist, becoming one of jazz's finest vocalists. An alto who moved easily from honeyed to harsh, she had a huge range and a finely controlled vibrato, and was acclaimed for her performance of such songs as
An active recording artist from the mid-1940s on, she frequently (1950s–80s) toured the United States and Europe.
See biographies by L. Gourse (1993) and M. Ruuth (1994); discography by D. Brown (1991).