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Sarah Vaughan

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Lois; Sassy (1924-1990) Singer

Audio sample They Can't Take That Away From Me
Recorded April 2, 1954
(Courtesy Verve Music Group)

Sarah Vaughan
Image courtesy of Frank Driggs Collection
Sarah Vaughan sang in the choir of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Newark, as a child, where at the age of 12 she became organist. In October 1942, she won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre; shortly afterwards, in April 1943, she joined Earl Hines' big band as second pianist and singer to Hines and Billy Eckstine. Eckstine formed his own bop-oriented big band early in 1944, and Vaughan joined him a few months later, making her first recording with his orchestra on December 31. She left Eckstine after about a year, and thereafter, except for a brief stay in John Kirby's group in winter 1945-6, she worked only as a soloist.

Audio Feature Cassandra Wilson, singer
On the voice of Sarah Vaughan
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

After George Treadwell (her manager and first husband) refashioned her stage appearance and repertory she achieved considerable success on television, in recordings from the late 1940s, and in international performances from the early 1950s. Although she began to perform predominantly slow, popular ballads with heavy vibrato to the accompaniment of "easy listening" orchestras, her early associations with bop musicians (especially Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, with whom she recorded Lover Man in 1945) established her lasting reputation as a jazz singer. This reputation endured in part because of her tendency to treat her voice more as a jazz instrument than as a vehicle for lyrics: she negotiated wide leaps within her full-bodied contralto range, improvised subtle melodic and rhythmic embellishments, and made fluid alterations of timbre from a bell-like clarity to a bluesy growl.

During the five-year contract with Columbia that marked her rise to stardom (1949-54), she recorded often with studio orchestras and only once in a jazz context (with Miles Davis in 1950). A new contract with Mercury (1954-9) allowed her to pursue a dual career: for Mercury she made commercial discs, including her hit Broken-Hearted Melody (1958), while for EmArcy, Mercury's jazz subsidiary, she recorded with Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, the sidemen of Count Basie's orchestra, and other jazz musicians. She combined these activities under later contracts with Roulette, Mercury, and Columbia (1960-67). In 1971, after a five-year absence from recording, she began once again to make popular albums, occasionally employing a jazz-flavored accompaniment, as on her album with Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, and Louie Bellson in 1978. In public performances Vaughan is accompanied by a trio of piano, double bass, and drums, either alone or as the nucleus of a big band or symphony orchestra. Among the distinguished members of her group have been Jimmy Jones (1947-52; 1954-8), Roy Haynes (1953-4), Richard Davis (late 1950s-early 1960s), Roland Hanna (early 1960s), Bob James (1965-8), Jan Hammer(1970-71), Jimmy Cobb(1970-78), Andy Simpkins (from 1979), and Harold Jones (from 1980). From 1978 to 1980 the trio became a quartet under the leadership of Vaughan's then manager, conductor, and husband, Waymon Reed. In 1987, Vaughan recorded an album of Latin-jazz songs.

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