Her dynamic vocal range, sophisticated harmonic sense, and horn-like phrasing brought Vaughan million-selling numbers and a stage and recording career that spanned half a decade.
Sarah Lois Vaughan was born the daughter of Asbury and Ada Vaughan on March 27, 1924, in Newark, New Jersey. As a youth Vaughan took piano lessons and attended the Mount Zion Baptist Church, where she served as a church keyboardist. At home Vaughan played the family's upright piano and listened to the recordings of jazz artists Count Basie and Erskine Hawkins. After discovering Newark's numerous theaters and movie houses, she skipped school and left home at night to watch dances and stage shows. By age 15, she performed at local clubs, playing piano and singing.
Sarah Lois Vaughan was an American jazz singer, described by Scott Yanow as having "one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century."
Nicknamed "Sailor" (for her salty speech), "Sassy" and "The Divine One", Sarah Vaughan was a Grammy Award winner. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed upon her its "highest honor in jazz", the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989.
Sarah Vaughan's father, Asbury "Rat Fool" Vaughan, was a carpenter by trade and played guitar and piano.
Vaughan won an amateur contest at Harlem's Apollo Theatre in 1942 and soon joined Earl Hines's big band as vocalist and second pianist. Joining Billy Eckstine's band in 1944, she gained exposure to the new bebop style; she was especially influenced by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and recorded with them in 1945. Alternating between popular song and jazz, she worked as a soloist for the rest of her career. A vast range and wide vibrato in the service of her harmonic sensitivity enabled Vaughan to use her voice with a seemingly instrumental approach, often improvising as a jazz soloist.
Parallels have been drawn between Vaughan's voice and that of opera singers. Jazz singer Betty Carter said that with training Vaughan could have "...gone as far as Leontyne Price." Bob James, Vaughan's musical director in the 1960s said that "...the instrument was there. But the knowledge, the legitimacy of that whole world were not for her...But if the aria were in Sarah's range she could bring something to it that a classically trained singer could not."
In a chapter devoted to Vaughan in his book Visions of Jazz (2000), critic Gary Giddins described Vaughan as the "...ageless voice of modern jazz - of giddy postwar virtuosity, biting wit and fearless caprice". He concluded by saying that "No matter how closely we dissect the particulars of her talent...we must inevitably end up contemplating in silent awe the most phenomenal of her attributes, the one she was handed at birth, the voice that happens once in a lifetime, perhaps once in several lifetimes."
Sarah Vaughan Live at Satin Doll in Tokyo Japan. Vocals: Sarah Vaughan; Piano: Frank Collet; Bass: Bob Maize; Drums: Haroldo Jones.