Vocalist Sarah Vaughan.
Courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Born March 27, 1924, in Newark, NJ
Died April 3, 1990, in Los Angeles, CA
“Sassy,” Dizzy Gillespie once said, “can sing notes other people can’t even hear.” Sassy was none other than Sarah Vaughan, who sang out serpentine lines with the agility of a horn player. She was an able pianist as well as a singer; like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, she saw herself as a musician before she considered herself a vocalist. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1924, she first earned attention at the Apollo Theater’s legendary amateur nights, and by 1942 she was invited to join Earl Hines’s big band. Although he said she “looked like home-made sin” (she was at first considered too plain and too dark to be an entertainer), he quickly recognized her keen rhythmic sense, her remarkable ear for chord changes, and her seemingly boundless range. Performing nightly alongside bebop pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, she became, in the words of jazz critic Gary Giddins, “the ageless voice of modern jazz—of giddy postwar virtuosity, biting wit, and fearless caprice ... a voice that happens once in a lifetime, perhaps once in several lifetimes.”