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Summary Article: Sarah Vaughan (1924–1990)
from African American Almanac
Singer

Sarah Lois Vaughan was born on March 27, 1924, in Newark, New Jersey. Vaughan was a contralto with a range of three octaves; she had a voice of such beauty, range, and power, her ear so sure, her musicality so rare that she could have become an opera star. Fortunately for jazz lovers, she went the way of jazz and brought joy to her listeners from the time she started singing professionally in 1943.

Vaughan had begun singing and accompanying the choir on piano in church in her native Newark, and she had sung pop songs at high school parties when, on a dare, she entered the Wednesday night amateur contest at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. Billy Eckstine happened to be backstage, and he ran out front as soon as he heard her voice and later recommended Vaughan to his boss, bandleader Earl Hines. Hines came, heard her sing, and hired her—and she did win the amateur contest, which meant a week's work at the Apollo. Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were both in the Hines band at the time, although they and Vaughan left Hines when Eckstine decided to start his own band. By 1945 Vaughan had made her first records under her own name, which included the classic “Lover Man,” and she was the only singer to record with Bird and Dizzy together.

A year later she started her solo career. Though she had some big pop hits during her long and rich career, she never strayed from jazz for long. Her records with jazz artist greats Count Basie, Roy Haynes, Benny Carter, Clifford Brown, and Gerald Wilson in the late 1950s remain classics as well as her recording with Miles Davis. Incredibly, as she got older, she got better, losing none of her amazing top range and adding to the bottom range, while her mastery of interpretation continued to improve. Her fans called her “The Divine One.” Her best known songs include “It's Magic,” “Broken-hearted Melody,” “Misty,” and “Send in the Clowns.” Vaughan died on April 3, 1990, in Los Angeles, California.

Copyright © 2012 by Visible Ink Press®

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