Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Lois Vaughan, also known as “Sassy”, and “The Divine One”, was an American jazz singer. She was born March 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey, and died April 3, 1990 in Los Angeles, California. Leonard Feather, a jazz critic, called her “the greatest singer to emerge from bop era.” Ella Fitzgerald called her “the greatest singing talent in the world.” Cavett joked about Sarah Vaughn’s popularity in 1980’s two-part interview on The Dick Cavett Show. She was the singer’s vocalist for nearly 50 years. Her influence on everyone, from Mel Torme and Anita Baker, was unmatched. She was one of the most prominent musicians to be identified by their first names. Sarah, Sassy was her name — the unrivaled Sarah Vaughan. Asbury “Jake”, Vaughan was Sarah’s father. He was a carpenter, and an amateur guitarist. Ada Vaughan was her mother and a laundress. Ada and Jake Vaughan immigrated from Virginia to Newark during the First World War. Sarah was their only child. However, in the 1960s, they adopted Donna, the daughter of a woman who had traveled with Sarah Vaughan. Sarah lived with the Vaughans in Newark’s Brunswick Street for her entire childhood. Jake Vaughan was deeply religious. The family was active in New Mount Zion Baptist Church, 186 Thomas Street. Sarah started piano lessons when she was seven years old. She sang in the church choir, and sometimes played the piano during rehearsals or service. Vaughan was a fan of popular music from the radio and on records. Vaughan saw many local and touring bands in Newark during the 1930s. Vaughan attended Newark’s East Side High School. She later transferred to Newark Arts High School. This school was the first “magnet” high-school in America, opened in 1931. Vaughan, however, began to find her academic life difficult due to her performing and nocturnal activities. She dropped out of highschool during her junior year in order to focus more on music. Vaughan, along with her friends, began to venture across the Hudson River to New York City in order to see big bands at Harlem’s Ballroom or Apollo Theater. Vaughan often travelled with Doris Robinson, a friend, to New York City. Vaughan suggested to Sarah Robinson that she enter the Apollo Amateur Night contest in the Fall 1942, when Sarah was only 18 years old. Vaughan was the pianist accompaniment for Robinson who won second place. Vaughan decided later to compete as a singer. Vaughan won with “Body and Soul”, although it is not known when her Apollo victory was. Vaughan later told Marian McPartland that the prize was $10 and that she would be performing at the Apollo for a week. Vaughan was invited by the Apollo to open for Ella Fitzgerald in Spring 1943, but it took a while. Vaughan was introduced by Earl Hines, the bandleader, sometime during her week of Apollo performances. However, the details of this introduction are not known. Vaughan, along with others, have credited Billy Eckstine with hearing Vaughan at the Apollo and recommending Hines to her. Vaughan spent the rest of 1943 and part 1944 touring the country in the Earl Hines bigband. The Earl Hines big band is most well-known today as an incubator of bebop. It featured Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bennie Green, who played the trombone. Eckstine, who had left Hines’ band in late 1943, formed his own big band with Gillespie and became the new musical director of the band. Parker was also invited to join the Eckstine band, where he would host an impressive cast of jazz musicians over the next few decades: Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Eckstine invited Vaughan to join his band in 1944. This gave her the opportunity to improve her musicianship and meet some of the most important jazz figures of that era. Vaughan left Eckstine’s band in late 1944 to pursue her solo career. However, she was very close to Eckstine and recorded often with him throughout her life. Vaughan started her solo career in 1945, freelancing at clubs on New York’s 52nd Street such as the Three Deuces and the Famous Door. Vaughan was also known to frequent the Braddock Grill next door the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Vaughan recorded “Lover Man”, a song for the Guild label, on May 11, 1945. She was joined by Parker, Al Haig, Curly Russell, and Sid Catlett, who played piano and double bass respectively. She recorded three sides more later that month with a different Gillespie/Parker group. Albert Marx offered Vaughan a contract to record on the Musicraft label. Vaughan’s record success with Musicraft continued into 1947 and 1948. Musicraft was nearly bankrupted in 1948 by a ban on musicians unions. Vaughan used the opportunity to sign with Columbia, using the royalty payments that were not received. After the legal issues were settled, Vaughan’s chart success continued with “Black Coffee”, which charted in the Summer 1949. Vaughan’s tenure at Columbia was limited to commercial pop songs, many of which were chart successes. Vaughan received a lot of critical praise. Vaughan won the Esquire magazine’s New Star Award in 1947, as well as the awards from Down Beat magazine every month from 1947 to 1952 and Metronome magazine each month from 1948 to 1953. Recording success and critical success gave Vaughan numerous opportunities to perform, filling clubs across the country nearly every night throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Vaughan’s relationship to Columbia Records was also strained when she was dissatisfied by the commercial material she had to record and the lackluster financial results of her records. Although a small number of side tracks she recorded with Miles Davis, Benny Green and Benny Green were among her best recordings, they were not typical of her Columbia output. George Treadwell, her husband and manager, signed a unique contract with Mercury Records for Vaughan in 1953. She recorded commercial material for Mercury Records and jazz-oriented material at EmArcy. She recorded her Mercury debut session in February 1954. She remained with Mercury Records until 1959. Vaughan was back at Mercury in 1964 and 1967 after a brief stint with Roulette Records (1960-1963). Vaughan spent the latter half of 1950s with a number of jazz luminaries, as she was on a constant tour schedule. In 1954, she was featured at Newport Jazz Festival. She would continue to be a star at subsequent festivals in Newport and New York City throughout her life. She performed at Carnegie Hall in the Fall 1954 with the Count Basie Orchestra. The bill also featured Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Lester Young. She returned to Europe in the fall and continued her successful tour. In the spring, she embarked on a “Big Show,” U.S. tour. It was a series of star-studded one nighters that featured Count Basie (George Shearing), Erroll Garner, Jimmy Rushing, and Erroll Garner. Vaughan was part of the lineup at the 1955 New York Jazz Festival, Randalls Island. Vaughan and Treadwell had a successful professional relationship through the 1950s. However, Vaughan’s personal relationship with Treadwell reached breaking point in 1958 when she filed for divorce. Treadwell stated that Vaughan had completely delegated financial affairs to Treadwell. Despite reporting incredible income figures through the 1950s Treadwell claimed that there was only $16,000 remaining at the settlement. They split the $16,000 and their personal assets equally, ending their business relationship. Treadwell’s departure from Sarah Vaughan was also precipitated when Clyde “C.B.” entered her life. Atkins, a man with a questionable background who she met in Chicago, was her husband and they were married September 4, 1959. Although Atkins had no experience in artist management or music, Vaughan wished to have a mixed professional/personal relationship like the one she had with Treadwell. Atkins became her personal manager. However, Atkins was still reeling from the Treadwell problems and initially kept an eye on Atkins. Vaughan and Atkins bought a house in Englewoodcliffs, New Jersey. Vaughan signed with Roulette Records immediately after her Mercury Records contract ended in late 1959. Vaughan started recording for Roulette Records in April 1960. She made a series of large, strong ensemble albums. Vaughan was unable to have biological children so she and Atkins adopted Debra Lois in 1961. After a string of bizarre events, Vaughan filed for divorce from Atkins in November 1963. However, her relationship with Atkins was difficult and violent. To help her sort out the financial ruin of her marriage, she turned to John “Preacher”, a childhood friend, and Clyde “Pumpkin,” Jr., club owner. Wells and Golden discovered that Vaughan was nearly $150,000 in debt due to Atkins’ gambling habits and excessive spending. The IRS took the Englewood Cliffs house as a result of non-payment of taxes. Vaughan retained custody and Golden became Vaughan’s manager for the rest of the decade. She also lost interest in Roulette Records around the time of her second divorce. Roulette’s finances were more opaque and deceitful than usual in the music business, and its recording artists often had very little to show for their efforts besides some great records. Vaughan went back to Mercury Records after her contract with Roulette expired in 1963. Vaughan and Quincy Jones went to Denmark in the summer of 1963 to record four days worth of live performances with her trio, Sassy Swaings the Tivoli. This is an excellent example of Vaughan’s live performance from that period. She made her White House debut in 1964 for President Johnson. The Tivoli recording would prove to be her brightest moment in her second time with Mercury. Jazz artists were left with shrinking audiences and unsuitable material due to changing demographics and tastes during the 1960s. Vaughan moved to the West Coast in 1969. She first settled in a house near Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, and then in what would become her final home in Hidden Hills. After a 1970 Las Vegas performance, Vaughan met Marshall Fisher. Fisher quickly became Vaughan’s lover as well as her manager. Fisher, a man with little experience in the entertainment or musical business, was another untested acquaintance. However, he was a true fan who was determined to help Vaughan’s career. Vaughan’s record business saw a revival in the seventies. Bob Shad, who had previously worked with her at Mercury Records, approached her in 1971 to record for Mainstream Records. Ernie Wilkins, a Basie veteran, arranged and conducted Vaughan’s first Mainstream album A Time In My Life in November 1971. Vaughan recorded a collection ballads that Michel Legrand arranged, conducted, and wrote in April 1972. Allyn Ferguson, Jack Elliott, Peter Matz and Jack Elliott were the arrangers for Vaughan’s third Mainstream album Feelin’ Good. Vaughan recorded Live in Japan in September 1973 with her trio. Bob Shad presented to Vaughan “Send In The Clowns”, an Stephen Sondheim song, during her sessions with Legrand. This song would be her signature and replace the “Tenderly”, which she had carried with her since the beginning of her solo career. Vaughan performed a private concert in December 1974 for President Gerald Ford of the United States and Giscard D’Estaing of France during their summit on Martinique. In 1974, Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, asked Vaughan to perform in an all-Gershwin concert he had planned for him. Marty Paich arranged the arrangements and the orchestra would include Ray Brown on double basse, Shelly Manne on drums, and Bill Perkins and Pete Christlieb, saxophonists. It was a great success. Thomas and Vaughan performed again with Thomas’ Buffalo, New York home orchestra, and then appeared in 1976 and 1975 with various symphony orchestras across the country. Vaughan had a long-held desire to work with symphonies, and these performances fulfilled that interest. Vaughan performed orchestra performances for the remainder of the decade without Thomas. Vaughan ended her professional and personal relationship with Marshall Fisher in 1977. Fisher is sometimes referred to as Vaughan’s third husband but they weren’t legally married. Vaughan was 16 years younger than Waymond Reed and was a trumpet player who was also playing with the Count Basie Band. Reed was her third husband and joined her working group as a musical director, trumpet player and musical director. In 1977, Norman Granz, Ella Fitzgerald’s manager signed Vaughan to Pablo Records. Vaughan and Waymond were divorced in 1981. Vaughan continued to perform in the 1980s. She began receiving awards that recognized her contributions to American music and her status as an important senior stateswoman of Jazz. In 1980, Vaughan performed with the New Jersey Symphony a symphonic Gershwin concert. This performance won her an Emmy Award. Vaughan was awarded a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985. Vaughan was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. Vaughan only did a small amount of studio recording after the 1982 end of her Pablo contract. Vaughan was involved in The Planet is Alive Let It Live, a symphonic work composed by Tito Fontana, Sante Palumbo, and based on Italian translations from Polish poems by Karol Wtyla (the future Pope John Paul II). Vaughan’s last complete album was Brazilian Romance. It was composed and produced by Sergio Mendes. Recorded mainly in New York and Detroit in the first part of 1987, it is a mix of Brazilian Romance and Polish Poems. Vaughan sang on a 1988 album of Christmas carols that was recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. It was sold in Hallmark Cards shops. Vaughan was featured on Quincy Jones’ 1989 album Back on the Block, in a short duet with Ella Fitzgerald. This recording was Vaughan’s last studio recording. It was fittingly Vaughan’s only formal studio recording with Fitzgerald, a career that began 46 years ago opening for Fitzgerald at The Apollo. Vaughan appears in several video recordings dating back to the 1980s. Sarah Vaughan Live From Monterrey, 1983/84 featured her working trio with guest soloists. Sass and brass was taped in New Orleans in 1986 and featured her working trio with guest soloists Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie. Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One appeared in the American Masters series, which aired on PBS. Vaughan began to experience health problems in 1989. However, she never gave any hint that her health was declining. Vaughan cancelled a series in Europe in 1989 due to arthritis in her hand. However, she was able complete another series in Japan. Vaughan was diagnosed with lung cancer during a 1989 run at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club. She was too sick to complete the last day of what would be her final series public performances. Vaughan went back to California to start chemotherapy. She spent the final months in hospital and at home. Vaughan became tired of the fight and asked to be taken home. She died in her sleep on April 3, 1990, while she was watching a TV movie about her daughter. Vaughan’s funeral took place at the First Mount Zion Baptist Church, Newark. This was the same church she grew up, but it was relocated to a different building. After the ceremony, Vaughan’s body was transported by a horse-drawn carriage to Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield. Sarah Vaughan won three Grammy Awards. Sarah Vaughan was awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989, the highest jazz honor. Text contributed by users is available under Creative Commons By–SA License. It may also be available under GNU FDL.

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