Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990)
Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 27, 1924. Outside of their regular jobs—as a carpenter and as a laundress—her parents were also musicians. Growing up in Newark, a young Sarah Vaughan studied the piano and organ, and her voice could be heard as a soloist at Mount Zion Baptist Church. Vaughan’s first step toward becoming a professional singer was taken at a talent contest held at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where many African-American music legends made their name. After being dared to enter, she won the 1942 competition with her rendition of “Body and Soul.” She also caught the attention of another vocalist, who persuaded Earl Hinesto hire Vaughan to sing with his orchestra. After performing with Eckstine’s orchestra for a year, Vaughan briefly worked with John Kirby before leaving big bands behind to become a solo artist (though she often reunited with Eckstine for duets). Having already been given the nickname “Sassy” as a commentary on her onstage style, it was while striking out on her own that she was dubbed “The Divine One” by a DJ in Chicago. In the late 1940s, her popular recordings included “If You Could See Me Now” and “It’s Magic.”
The next decade saw Vaughan produce more pop music, though when she joined Mercury Records she also recorded jazz numbers on a subsidiary label, EmArcy. She sang hits like “Whatever Lola Wants” (1955), “Misty” (1957) and “Broken-Hearted Melody” (1959), which sold more than a million copies. Vaughan gave concerts in the United States and Europe, and her singing was also heard in films such as Disc Jockey (1951) and Basin Street Revue(1956).
Throughout her career, Vaughan was recognized as a supremely gifted singer and performer. She was invited to perform at the White House and at venues like Carnegie Hall, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1989 and was selected to join the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1990. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Vaughan’s final concert was given at New York’s Blue Note Club in 1989. She passed away from lung cancer on April 3, 1990, at age 66, in Hidden Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Married and divorced four times, she was survived by her adopted daughter.