Sarah Vaughn

Sarah Vaughn

Easily one of the most visible and well known vocalists of her generation, Sarah Vaughn was gifted with an enormous range that could go from baritone to an operatic soprano. Like her contemporary Ella Fitzgerald, she took on the innovations of bebop, an added an extraordinary level of horn like improvising to her repertoire. Born in Newark, New Jersey on March 27, 1924, Vaughn took up piano and performed music at her church, and regularly decided to not attend school when she found the local movie establishments and theaters. At age 15, Vaughn was singing locally and playing piano in the theaters. She went to Harlem and would see shows at the Savoy Ballroom, and in 1943, she entered one of the amateur night competitions. Singing “Body and Soul” she wowed those her saw her that night and was noticed by vocalist Billy Eckstine who recommended her to his employer at the time, pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines.

Vaughn joined Hines’ orchestra which included modern Jazz heavyweights such as Fats Navarro, and J.J. Johnson. She was the only female member of the ensemble, and debuted on April 23, 1943 at the Apollo Theater in New York, she left Hines’ after a time and not long after made her first recordings for the Continental label. Assisted through the production of writer Leonard Feather, who assembled a band including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld, and together they cut four sides.

Vaughn became a member of Eckstine’s group, and after a year there she joined the John Kirby sextet. She recorded for the Musicraft label cutting the classic “If You Could See Me Now” by pianist Tadd Dameron, and in 1945 joined Gillespie and Charlie Parker for the recording of “Lover Man”. Three years down the line, she was signed by Columbia and had crossover success with her recordings, among them “Summertime” and “Sarah Vaughn in Hi-Fi” both of which had featured Miles Davis among the participants. In addition to her Jazz credentials, Vaughn proved to be a strong pop vocalist highlighted at her years with Mercury. 1955 brought the album “Sarah Vaughn and Clifford Brown” with the innovative hard bop trumpeter Clifford Brown, recording several more noteworthy albums. By 1959, Vaughn had her first million selling song, “Broken Hearted Melody”.

She signed with the Roulette label, recording more Jazz oriented material, including a 1961 album with Count Basie. She returned to Mercury records and recorded more pop oriented material. By the mid to late 1970’s Vaughn signed with Norman Granz’ Pablo label and recorded a number of albums including 2 albums worth of Duke Ellington’s material, recently collected on Pablo in a 2 disc reissue with additional material. She was nominated for many Grammy awards but didn’t secure a win until 1982.

Entering the final phase of her career, she continued recording for Pablo, and recorded for CBS in 1987, “Brazilian Romance”. Her voice had become huskier and deeper, and the baritone she could reach earlier in her career became even more apparent. Her last session was for Quincy Jones in 1989 for his 1990 release “Back on the Block” a multi genre fusion featuring musicians from the Jazz, Pop, R&B and Hip Hop worlds. She passed away from lung cancer on April 4th, 1990 leaving behind an astonishing catalog of music and also influencing legions of vocalists to follow.