October 8th, 2005
Sarah Vaughan
About Sarah Vaughan

Jazz critic Leonard Feather called her “the most important singer to emerge from the bop era.” Ella Fitzgerald called her the world’s “greatest singing talent.” During the course of a career that spanned nearly fifty years, she was the singer’s singer, influencing everyone from Mel Torme to Anita Baker. She was among the musical elite identified by their first names. She was Sarah, Sassy — the incomparable Sarah Vaughan.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1924, Vaughan was immediately surrounded by music: her carpenter father was an amateur guitarist and her laundress mother was a church vocalist. Young Sarah studied piano from the age of seven, and before entering her teens had become an organist and choir soloist at the Mount Zion Baptist Church. When she was eighteen, friends dared her to enter the famed Wednesday Night Amateur Contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. She gave a sizzling rendition of “Body and Soul,” and won first prize. In the audience that night was the singer Billy Eckstine. Six months later, she had joined Eckstine in Earl Hines’s big band along with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

When Eckstine formed his own band soon after, Vaughan went with him. Others including Miles Davis and Art Blakey, were eventually to join the band as well. Within a year, however, Vaughan wanted to give a solo career a try. By late 1947, she had topped the charts with “Tenderly,” and as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, Vaughan expanded her jazz repertoire to include pop music. As a result, she enlarged her audience, gained increased attention for her formidable talent, and compiled additional hits, including the Broadway show tunes “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Mr. Wonderful.” While jazz purists balked at these efforts, no one could deny that in any genre, Vaughan had one of the greatest voices in the business.

In the late 1960s, Vaughan returned to jazz music, performing and making regular recordings. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s she recorded with such jazz notables as Oscar Peterson, Louie Bellson, Zoot Sims, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Don Cherry, and J.J. Johnson. Her recordings of the “Duke Ellington Song Book (1 and 2)” are considered some of the finest recordings of the time. While for many years her signature song had been “Misty,” by the mid-70’s, she was closing every show with Sondheim’s “Bring In The Clowns.” In 1982, while in her late fifties, Vaughan won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist for her album, “Gershwin Live”!

While she continued to work without the massive commercial success enjoyed by colleagues such as Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, and Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan consistently retained a special place in the hearts of fellow musicians and audiences alike. She continually performed at top venues, playing to adoring sell-out crowds well into her sixties. Remarkably, unlike many singers, she lost none of her extraordinary talent as time went on. Her multi-octave range, with its swooping highs and sensual lows, and the youthful suppleness of her voice shaded by a luscious timbre and executed with fierce control, all remained intact. In 1990, at the age sixty-six, Sarah Vaughan passed away. Shortly after her death, Mel Torme summed up the feelings of all who had seen her, saying “She had the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field.”

  • Paul Seales

    As a young man I loved Sarah with all my heart. Of course she didn’t know that I existed. The night that she appeared at the Galaxy lounge sometime in the 60’s, I sat right next to her at the bar. I was to timid to speak to her. I’ve regretted that time since then. So sorry that she passed away so young.

  • alice britnell

    There will never be another Sarah.

  • George Gibson

    My first experience of Sarah V was in Rotterdam 1961 listening to her on a JBox singing Broken Hearted Melody. Since then I think I’ve got all her recordings,some with Billy E,got to admit when I want to relax and forget life’s little troubles I have a dose of SV and everything is so much better, recommend it.

  • Emily

    I chose to do a project on her for class. Her music is amazing.

  • Sarah

    I Chose Her on a Class project & she is the best ever!!!!!!!!

  • Raymond Gray Sr.

    The Devine One, was the greates of them all.

  • Angelica

    She was a very talented young lady. I am doing a project on her in school.

  • taylor

    Every time i have to do a project on someeone for school, i choose her! She is an amazing person to read and write about and i love doing my projects on her!!!!!!

  • aryana

    Imma do a project on her t so i can get an A or B shes seems like a great person

  • aryana

    She seems like a great person im goimg to do a project in english on her to.

  • ary

    wow people must have loved her music

  • jeanette

    Sassy embodied one of the most pure and beautiful voices in the business. The ease with which she delievered
    her vocals showcased her exquisite artistry. Wow what a range and delivery! She also had great command of the piano. Sassy will always remain my favorite.

  • She She

    I love Ms. Vaughn, I’m a young woman found out about Sassy in my early 20’s soon after She passed away. I really wish that I could have seen her in concert.

  • Mario Alberico

    As a college student I saw her live in 1981 and I’ve never been the same since and no singer since then has amazed me so. What a remarkable women whose talent grew with time from an attractive dear I say cuteness in the late 50s to powerful and sublime when I saw her live at the University of Illinois in 1981. God smiled on us all when he made Sarah.

  • washington kingsby

    I fell in love with sarah when I first heard her in 1955–”what ever lola wants”!!! “Sassy” has NEVER made a bad recording. Whenever she was preforming in the S.F. bay area (which was often) I was there –holding on to every sound she made.When I put sarah on the turntable or C.D. everything is alright with me and the world!!! sarah IS my heart .

  • Marissa Rojas

    Sarah Vaughan is an insperation to me…! i am doing a presentation on her at my school, and i have listened to a few of her songs, and she is amazing…she has a beautiful voice! i wish i could have met her

  • david johnson

    Sarah Vaughan has the voluptuous, rich voice; the absolute certainty of the greatest musician, and the playfulness of a child….. she is the greatest singer I have ever heard.

  • David Hazard

    I first saw Sarah live in Boston, 1989….. she gave an amazing performance… 3 encores even… Sadly she passed a year later. I started collecting her records and such. I find it disturbing that she’s been gone 20 years and “Look To The Sun” and “Gerhwin Live 1978 (on PBS) Have yet to be issued, yet they play that Documentary with snippits of the performances. I think now as i write this FINALLY all her Mainstream work has been issued, when for years it was out of print.

  • mike campeau

    Can’t wait to watch this…Came upon her 20 odd years ago watching the Grammy Awards when she sang a song, “So Many Stars”. Blew me away, her voice radiated the stars in the heavens.

    A Foggy Day/Crush on You from a live album is my fave…” Sing Perdido!” “Not tonight babY!!!”

  • Ronald Myers

    Sassy was the greatest singer of them all!!! There is nothing like her, and we will never see her likes again. so versitile that she could have easily up-staged many who chose the operatic stage; they better be glad she didn’t want to go that route! I always was familiar with her because my mother and my uncles loved her singing. My mother bought me the first record that I collected by Sassy: I was blown away by the absolute beauty of her voice singing standars like “Stardust”, “Linger Awhile”, “East of The Sun”, and “Thinking of You” I loved her!!!

  • Rock Nouveau

    Star Eyes haunts me day and night. Ms. Vaughn’s voice is the essence of serene, controlled, stylized Jazz–mood-setting, joyful, wistful, lush, snd sensual. As a vocalist she has set a standard of what appears to be effortless excellence. Her rendering of the Quincy Jones classic ‘The Midnight Sun Will Never Set’ is so uniquely enveloping, that I doubt we shall ever hear a version that might even begin to convey such sensibilities. Study Sarah Vaughn and one will have studied one of the timeless masters of song. I can’t get enough. Like Sinatra, she found a means of expressing, through song, almost every subject that beguiles and confounds human kind. Not only a stellar singer, but an insightful and complex interpreter of lyrics, Sarah Vaughn’s voice and choice of material remain unparalleled….

  • Ricardo Payton

    I was introduced to Sarah Vaughan’s music in 1972. From then on she became the soundtrack of my life. I went to see her at the Santa Barbara County Bowl in the 80’s she was promoting her Gershwin Live with Michael Tilson Thomas CD which she won a emmy for. She was backed by the Santa Barbara Symphony. The night was surreal. Her voice was so rich and tone so glorious that when she hit the low tones they would vibrate through your body. The woman made me believe in God that night.

  • Jack Canfield

    American Masters should really run this program again. Today’s generation needs to know Sassy, Billie, Ella, Carmen and Anita O’Day.

  • James W. Hull

    I was a very good friend of painist Jphn L.Malachin one of her earliest accompanist. He took over the job in the Eckstine band because Clyde Hart had so nuch work in N.Y. that he refused to travel. He kept the telegram from
    Dizzy offering him the job. Dizzy was the strawboss. He rehearrsed the band. John Malachi left to perfect the
    bebop style of playimg jazz. Then when Sarah left they joined forces. They became good friends in Billy’s band,
    and stayed in touch. At first Sarah could not find woek.. She was too dark. Black club owners wanted a light
    skin singer like Lena Horne.(John Malachi played for her too). John Malachi was very popular in Washington,D.C.
    playing the Crystal Carvens later named the Bohemian Carvens,the club Bally, Louis and Attucts later called the
    Casbar where he was the relief painist for Jellyroll Mirton at 16 in 1936.Trummy Young took his band ro Chicago,NY. John hired Sarah as his vocalist until George Tredwell produced her big hit. She became a star .Sje never forgot
    him.They worked Paris,Biedland etc.John Malachi always worked. If Sarah was in DC she’d join him for free.Whoa!

  • Sharon Gray

    I remember the day that I found out Sarah had died. I had an anitque shop in the Adams Morgan area of Washington, DC and I was walking to the shop and heard on the radio that Sarah had just passed away. I cried for days. I loved Sarah and her music. I still listen to the old 33″ record of Sarah singing “Pennies from Heaven”. If someone could convey a message to her daughter for me, that I think her Mom is and will always been the greatest singer ever!!!

  • Sarah Vaughn

    I was named after her.

  • neal jano

    Sassy is one of the few singers who cold make me cry. She was in the same catagory as the great Judy Garland. They both had the two greratest voices I have ever heard. Thank God for my extensive collections of LP’s and dvd’s so I can hear Sassy wheneverI want. Thank you , SASSY.

  • Richard Earl

    1964 – Melbourne – in a tiny pocketbook/magazine alcove in a drugstore. I was in my early 20s and had recently arrived in Australia from Canada on one of those “big adventures” young men sometimes do. I was working nearby at 3UZ radio as an announcer/newsreader and was on a break. There was only one other person looking at the books – a black woman in a headscarf and long coat. I didn’t pay much attention until I casually glanced in her direction. I instantly recognized Sarah. I knew she was performing in the city but I wasn’t expecting to actually see her this close up and wasn’t at the time a “fan.” She glanced in my direction but said nothing. I somehow kept my mouth shut, I like to think to respect her privacy, but it probably was more from fright. I had absolutely nothing intelligent to say to her. I sure would now -

  • Maskon Indonesia

    How I loved Sarah Vaughan. I believe that songs are played in heaven was the song of Sarah. I am separated from Sarah V, both physical distance and time. But Sarah is here, in my heart. Wayan, my friend from Bali who had died that first introduced me to Sarah’s song. Hi Wayan you peace in Heaven, watching Sarah is singing

  • Richard Rogers

    Hold on to Peace. Still today, the music of Sarah Vaughan embraces my life. The energy, the expression of love through her voice, her presence, her life was and is truly a gift to the human exprience. Though I never personally met her, upon hearing of the conclusion of her human experience, I received the news as though she was an individual personally near and dear to me. Truly, I’m thankful for music, and recordings of music. In the music, love that came through Sarah Vaughan is gifting the world today. Though my voice comes from Love, I view Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and Sarah Vaughan as part of how Love shaped Love’s expression of Love through my voice. To listen, please visit, http://www.holdontopeace.com ( http://www.holdontopeace.com ). But regardless of whether you like the voice that comes through me, please, hold on to Peace. That’s the most important thing; hold on to Peace.

  • john

    The album Sarah Vaughan accompanied by Clifford Brown is perhaps her finest work. Misty with the saxophone of Zoot Sims is a great song.

  • kristian

    very talented

  • mrs dowe

    i am helping my fourth grader on a project due monday on her for black history month. The hard part is trying to summerize everything down to two or three pargraphs. This i the first i have heard of her but not the first time hearing her music. Looks like we both will be learning something new. :-)

  • Toast

    Shes cool

  • leo white

    A brokenhearted MELODY.

  • Tom Davis

    Her theme song became “Send in the Clowns,” not “Bring in the Clowns.” Get it right, you clowns!

  • Michelle

    Go on to youtube and listen to her singing The Shadow of Your Smile live…stunning, absolutely magnificent. Brings tears to my eyes. What a gift, what a magnificent gift that woman had. I have adored her, worshipped her voice for many years and to know that she’s been gone for 20 years still saddens me. Her version of My Man is brilliant!

    Love you Sassy!!

  • Noah

    shes great

  • Andy

    Sarah, Dave Garaway was right — you ARE devine! Miss you greatly. Thanks to my Sarah Vaughan vynal & cd collection, we can visit anytime.

  • Bil

    I had never heard of Sarah Vaughn but happily, my partner Wayne, loved her so much so on March 11, 1973 I gave him a great gift as a surprise when I took him to the Copacabana on 59th Street to have dinner. After dinner I told him that there was a band with a singer. Wayne was shocked when he saw her. After the show, I got an autograph for Wayne. Since then, I fell in love with Sassy also and had seen her several times on Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Beacon theater. We still listen to her a lot of time.

  • Muniyra

    LIKE MRS. DOWE MENTIONED HERE (march 5,2010), IT IS EXTREMELY HARD TO NARROW DOWN IN THREE PARAGRAPHS ALL OF THE THINGS YOU WANT TO SAY ABOUT SARAH. I AM ALSO CURRENTLY WORKING ON A COLLEGE ENGLISH PAPER ABOUT “THE DEVINE ONE”, AND I FEEL THE WAY VIRTUALLY EVERYONE ON THIS BLOG FEELS ABOUT HER. I CAN’T BEGIN TO SUM UP MY APPRECIATION FOR HER EXTRAORDINARY TALENT. MY PAPER WAS ORIGINALLY ON HOW SARAH, BILLIE HOLLIDAY, AND ELLA FITZGERALD CONTRIBUTED TO JAZZ AND MUSIC IN GENERAL, BUT I HAD TO CHANGE IT BY ELIMINATING THE OTHER TWO, (though I love their work just as much), BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP READING INFO ON SARAH. AND SINCE I FOUND OUT WE WERE BORN AND RAISED IN THE SAME CITY,( & that my bday is 3 days b4 hers), I AM THAT MUCH MORE ASTONISHED BY AND APPRECIATIVE OF HER WORK. I DISCOVERED HER MUSIC ABOUT 3 YEARS AGO AT AGE 27 BY RENTING RANDOM CD’s AT A LOCAL LIBRARY. I HAVE SINCE THEN, NOT ONLY ‘BURNED’ THAT CD I BORROWED TO MY COMPUTER, BUT HAVE ALSO STARTED COLLECTING HER MUSIC EVER SINCE. I EVEN CREATED A PANDORA STATION FOR HER SO I CAN HEAR HER EVERYDAY, EVERYWHERE. GOD REALLY HAS SMILED ON US WHEN HE MADE HER MARIO ALBERICO! (march 27,2010).

  • Tony Hopper

    I saw her at the HOLLYWOOD BOWL in 1985 at THE PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL.

  • Kendall

    I’m doing a project on her and I’m in 5 grade I want to become a famous singer and I like her

  • Patty F.

    Listening to the Complete Mercury recording songbook volume 1. Her beautiful voice always helps to lighten my mood and mellow me out. Thank you Sarah.

  • Lilyan Strassman

    Sarah . . . Are ya’ list’ning? When you died, I cried hysterically. I mean I couldn’t stop. Know why?
    You taught me to sing Jazz. Didn’t know that, did’ja.
    It’s simple:
    After listening to you for years, I couldn’t imagine how you could leave a note . . . play around the heavens with it
    and know exactly how to return to the right chord. So you know what I did? I memorized your “lics.”
    Now, don’t get angry. I was only trying to learn. And an amazing thing happened. Singing your “lics” opened up Jazz Channels in my own head, so that I was able to sing my own.
    Yes my Darling Sarah, you taught me to sing jazz. Thank you and GodBlessYou as your music blesses us for all time.
    Respectfully,
    Lilyan

  • Tom from NY

    Great comments.

    Mine: After listening to Jazz for many, many years, and being a musician myself, I can say without any reservation that Sarah Vaughan was the greatest Jazz singer, period. Popularity and money are not indicators of greatness – they never were – particularly in art. Neither were flashy but meaningless and misdirected scat singing, or trivial but funny interpretations of songs. Those who mistakenly compare Sarah Vaughan to more financially successful stars or stars that do one thing better or worse, etc. do so at the cost of the art’s dignity. Sarah knew what “good music” (as she called it) was and let its inherent qualities guide her to ever greater pressence and expressiveness. This is evidenced not only by the incredible record of her music that she has so graceously left us, but also by the musicians she associated with for a carreer that spanned some 50 years and was still going strong when she sadly left us all behind.

    Godspeed Woman.

    Tom

  • Ron Gilliam

    I fell in love with Sassy when I was about 12. I first saw her in person 9 years later at the Black Orchid in Atlantic City. After the show she stood about 3 feet from me but I was too spellbound to say anything to her. Have seen her many times since. She is indeed incomparable. I use present tense ’cause she still lives in my heart.

  • Bob Sharp

    She was the greatest. I always liked her and started buying her music in the 80’s. I miss her and all the singers of that era. It’s good to see comments from other fans.

  • Peter Flockton

    Her recording in the fifties “Saint or Sinner [Sinner or Saint"] was the first time I became aware of Sarah.

    I was aBritish National Serviceman serving in Cyprus with 35 Field Engineer Regiment near Limassol.

    BFBS broadcast the record most nights and the entire camp went silent when it was played

    I would love to hear one more time before I die.

  • Tony Vitale

    I am 75 years old and a drummer who has been working the clubs in Chicago since I was a teenager. Sarah Vaughn was a tremendous influence on me as a youngster. I would,and still listen to all her music. Would go see her whenever she was in Chicago and always blew me away. Musicians wanted to play the way she sang. Had the pleasure of working with a few piano players who worked with her,and said she was “THE BEST”. The young singers of today should listen to Sarah. Miss her very much,but gratefull for having her voice in my life.

Inside This Episode

  • About Sarah Vaughan

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