Jazz Stars: Sarah Vaughan

Today in the column "Jazz Stars" – a story about the life of Sarah Vaughan, a popular American jazz singer, winner of four Grammy Awards.
Selection of musical compositions performed by Sarah Vaughan is posted in the museum Phonotheque.

Sarah Lou Vaughan was born at the end of March 1924 in Newark, New Jersey. Her father worked as a carpenter, and in his spare time played guitar and piano. Her mother was a laundress and sang in the church choir. According to the singer, already at the age of 7 she began to learn playing the piano, at 15 – playing the organ. In the same years the girl sang in the church choir, at the rehearsals of which she accompanied on the piano.

Sarah was already performing in Newark nightclubs as a teenager – she was singing and playing the piano. She exchanged from a regular high school into the School of the Arts, but the night performances made it difficult to concentrate on her studies, so Sarah eventually dropped out of the school and chose self-education.

In 1942, at the age of 18, Sarah Vaughan won an amateur music competition held at the Apollo Concert Hall, one of the most prestigious in New York. There she was noticed by the famous jazz pianist Earl Hines, who invited young girl to join his orchestra. A year later, Sarah became a soloist with Billy Estein big band, one of the most popular groups of the time.  Professionals of the jazz world immediately appreciated her talent, the uniqueness of which consisted in rare wide range (four octaves – from contralto to soprano) with an amazing variety of timbre: at the top she squeaked like a girl, the lower notes sang, on the contrary, juicy, and the middle was not like neither.

Vaughan made her first recording on May 11, 1945. In the song "Lover Man" she was accompanied by a super band: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Al Haig, double bass player Curley Russell and drummer Sid Catlett. With bebop fathers Parker and Gillespie, she recorded in the studio several more times, and soon got her own contract.

In 1947, Sarah hit the pop charts for the first time with the song "Tenderly" – and her luck never left her. The singer was nicknamed "Sassy" by her fellow musicians and "Divine" by a radio host. Both nicknames accompanied Sarah Vaughan throughout her life. The older the singer got, the more refined, on the verge of affectation, her performance became. The lyrics were often treated as auxiliary material, the music was the main thing, and the voice was one of the musical instruments.

Although the main moments of the singer's life were connected with jazz, she enjoyed performing music of other directions. She sang songs by Michel Legrand and the Beatles, appeared in the Broadway musical “South Pacific” and sang a part in the symphonic piece "The Earth is Alive, Let It Live" written by Karol Wojtyla, known as Pope John Paul II. Sarah Vaughan was the first jazz singer to sing with a symphony orchestra.

In 1946 Sarah married trumpeter George Treadwell, with whom she lived until 1958. Her second husband was Clyde Atkins (from 1958 to 1961). Waymon Reed was her third husband (from 1978 to 1981). It is known that Sarah Vaughan was never able to have children of her own – in 1961 she adopted a girl named Debra (Debra Lois), who later became an actress known as Paris Vaughan (Paris Vaughan).

Sarah Vaughan's latest full-length album was called “Brazilian Romance”. Since 1979, the singer immersed in Brazilian music. It turned out to be quite vivacious pop-jazz in the spirit of the 1980s – smooth jazz, as it was called then. Two years later, Quincy Jones invited Sarah Vaughan to participate in the recording of the album "Back on the Block". The famous jazz musician invited her to sing a duet with Ella Fitzgerald.

Sarah Vaughan lived through several eras in the music business, seeing off an array of notable colleagues on her final journey. Almost until her death, she was actively performing and recording. In 1989, Sarah refused to tour Europe, citing the need to treat arthritis. But she was diagnosed with lung cancer. As much as she could, the singer fought the disease, but soon, tired, asked to take her home, where she died. It happened on April 3, 1990, just a week before her 66th birthday. Sarah Vaughan is buried at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield, New Jersey.