SARAH VAUGHAN (1924 - 1990)
Sarah Vaughan was a natural talent whose extraordinary vocal range, which she navigated fluidly, allowed her to reach operatic highs and rich lows. She earned the nickname of “Divine One” for her superb musicianship and was known as “Sassy” to friends.
Vaughan was trained as a pianist/organist and sang in her church choir. At 18 she won the Apollo Theater’s famed amateur contest leading to a position as singer and second pianist in Earl Hines’ band which included vocalist Billy Eckstine. When Eckstine formed his bop-oriented band in 1944, he brought Sarah with him. Working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and other early beboppers influenced her ability to improvise like an instrumentalist. She was the first to record Dizzy’s “Night in Tunisia,” known then as “Interlude” and taken at ballad tempo. The following year Vaughan caught the attention of the jazz world with “East of the Sun,” recorded with Gillespie, and “Lover Man” with Gillespie and Parker. Her first big hit was “Tenderly” in 1947.
Two songs closely associated with her, “After Hours” and “Street of Dreams,” were recorded in ’51 and ’52. She signed with Mercury Records in 1954 which allowed her a dual career, recording popular material for the parent label and teaming with jazz heavyweights for its subsidiary, EmArcy. These sessions produced some of her finest work: In the Land of Hi-Fi with Cannonball Adderley and Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.
A session with the Basie band in 1961 keenly displays her vocal acrobatics. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s she continued to appear with noted jazz artists, recorded two albums of Brazilian music, and sang the poetry of Pope John Paul II. In 1982 she won a GRAMMY® for Gershwin Live! and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY® in 1989.
More can be found on Sarah Vaughan in the excellent biography Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan by Leslie Gourse, Da Capo Press.
© Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com