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Vaughan, Sarah (27th March 1924-3rd April 1990)

She was a singer born in Newark, New Jersey who began learning the piano when she was 7 years old and singing in the church choir.  She loved listening to the records of the time and going to see local bands and when she was a teenager she illegally went to local clubs where she would sing ad perform on the piano.  She transferred from East Side High School to Newark Arts High School but she decided to concentrate on music and left during her junior year.

When she was 18 years old, in 1942, she entered the Apollo Theater Amateur Night contest and was a winner after singing “Body and Soul”.  She won $10 and a week at the Apollo and in November of that that year was Ella Fitzgerald’s opening act.  Although some of the details are disputed about when the bandleader and pianist Earl Hines heard her, she replaced his current female singer in April 1943.

During 1943 and 1944 she toured the USA with the Earl Hines Big Band which featured Billy Eckstine as a singer and pianist, the saxophonist Charlie Parker and the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the trombonist Bennie Green.  She was hired under he jurisdiction of the American Federation of Musicians, but after the pianist Cliff Smalls joined the band she performed solely as  a singer.  Billy Eckstine left to start his own band in 1943  and in 1944 Sarah Vaughan joined him and made her debut recording “I’ll Wait an Pray” on December 4th.  Later that same month she was invited to record with a septet that include George Auld and Dizzy Gillespie and by the end of 1944 she had left the band and pursued her own career as a solo artist.

Out there on her own she earned the nickname “Sassy” from the pianist John Malachi, which she became known for.  At this time she freelanced at several clubs in New York City and in May 1945 she recorded “Lover Man” with a quintet that featured Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as the pianist Al Haig,  the double bassist Curly Russell and the drummer Sid Catlett.  A few weeks later she recorded three more songs with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with a different set of musicians.  In October 1945 she recorded “Time and Again” at the invitation of the violinist Stuff Smith and even though she was offered a contract by Musicraft that year she didn’t record as a leader until May 1946.  Recordings she made with the label include “If You Could See Me Now”, “I’ve Got a Crush On You” and “Body and Soul”.

She sang at Cafe Society in New York at the beginning of her time with Musicraft and met the trumpeter George Treadwell.  He became her manager and he took on the responsibility of being her music director for recordings as well as how she appeared on stage, including her hairstyle, clothing and even getting her teeth capped.  She married George in September 1946.

In 1947 she performed in Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, at the third Cavalcade of Jazz concert and continued to record with Musicraft.  Her single “Tenderly” unexpectedly became a pop hit single in late 1947 and in 1948 she hit the charts again with “It’s Magic” which had been recorded late the previous year.  Her next hit was with “Nature Boy” in April 1948 but due to the musician’s union putting on a second recording ban she recorded it with an a cappella choir.  At this time she left Musicraft and signed with the Columbia record label.  She won Esquire magazine’s New Star Award for 1947 and an award from Down Beat magazine in 1947, with others each year until 1952.  Metronome magazine gave her awards from 1948 to 1953.

In 1949 she had a hit with “Black Coffee” and over the next 3 to 4 years she had many other hits, mostly pop ballads, which included “The Lucky Old Sun” “I Cried For You” ” I Love the Guy”and “Saint or Sinner”.  In the summer of 1949 she appeared in the benefit for The Philadelphia Orchestra'”100 Men and a Girl” which was her debut with a symphony orchestra.  It was about this time that she earned her second nickname “The Divine One” from the DJ Dave Garroway.   She hosted her own radio show Songs by Sarah Vaughan on WMGM in New York City which went out from The Clique Club from Wednesday to Sunday each week.

Also in 1949 she and George Treadwell bought a house in Newark but their relationship started to sour with the conflicts and business pressures.  He hired a road manager for her touring requirements and opened an office in Manhattan.  Around this time she wasn’t happy with Columbia record label and so made a couple of recordings with Bennie Green and Miles Davis.

In 1954 she changed her recording contract to Mercury, which for for her commercial material and Mercury’s subsidiary EmArcy for her jazz material.  Her debut recording with them was in the February and some of of her songs with them included the hit “Make Yourself Comfortable” as well as “The Banana Boat Song”, “Whatever Lola Wants”, “Misty” and “How Important Can It Be”.  She had a 1957 hit with Billy Eckstone on “Passing Strangers”, as one of their series of duets, and her first gold record came in 1959 with “Broken Hearted Melody”.  She was a featured performer at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, which she sang often sang at in subsequent years, and sang at Carnegie Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra, Billie Holiday and the Modern Jazz Quartet.  She toured for much of the latter half of the 1950s nationally and internationally, making her UK debut at Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1958.  She remained with Mercury until 1959.

She and George Treadwell were divorced, after she has filed for it in 1958, and in 1959 she married Clyde “C.B.” Atkins and subsequently made him her manager.  They moved to Engelwood, New Jersey and she moved from Columbia record label to Roulette in 1960.  She recorded a range of albums with ensembles and orchestras led by conductors that included Quincy Jones, Billy May and Lalo Schifrin and had chart hits in 1960 with “Serenata”, “You’re My Baby” and “Eternally”.

In 1961 she and her husband adopted Deborah Lois Atkins, who was later known as Paris Vaughan professionally.  Their marriage was problematic however, and after violence had been involved, she filed for divorce in 1963.  Her husband had left her in debt but Clyde “Pumpkin” Golden Jr, who she had known since childhood, became her manager.  They also began a romantic relationship.  Also in 1963 her contract with Roulette ended so she returned to Mercury and recorded the album Sassy Swings the Tivoli in Denmark with Quincy Jones.  Due to the waning audiences for jazz music and the end of her Mercury record deal in 1967 she did not sign with another label until 1971.

She met up with Marshall Fisher in Las Vegas, Nevada while he was working at a concession stand and after an instant attraction he moved to Los Angeles to live with her.  She employed him as her road manager before giving him the position of personal manager even though he had no previous experience.  This proved successful and in 1971 she signed to Mainstream record label which was run by Bob Shad, who she had previously worked with.  She recorded the albums A Time In My Life, Sara Vaughan and Michel Legrand, Feelin’ Good, Live in Japan , Sarah Vaughan and the Jimmy Rowles Quintet, Sarah Vaughan: Live at the Holiday Inn Lesotho and Send in the Clowns, with the title song becoming her signature song.  She filed a lawsuit against Bob Shad in 1975 for the cover of Send in the Clowns.

In 1974 she performed under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in a concert of music by George Gershwin.  This was such a success that the show was repeated in Buffalo, New York and then again with other orchestras in 1975 and 1976.

Leaving the Mainstream record label she signed to Atlantic but cancelled the contract in 1977 after they rejected her album of songs by Lennon and McCartney that was produced by David and Marty Paich of Toto.  She went on tour in South America and was filmed by Thomas Guy for the documentary Listen to the Sun.  She signed up to the label Pablo and recorded her How Long Has This Been Going On?  with the jazz musicians Louis Bellson, Ray Brown, Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson which won a Grammy Award nomination.  She then went on to released I Love Brazil which was also a Grammy Award nomination.  In 1978 Berklee College of Music presented her with an Honorary Doctorate of Music.

When the 1980s came around a plaque was put up in her honour outside the CBS Building (Black Rock) which commemorated all the jazz clubs she had performed at on Swing Street.  She performed with the New Jersey Symphony that same year on a symphonic programme of music by the Gershwins and was awarded an Emmy Award for Individual Achievement Special Class for its broadcast on PBS.  In 1982 she worked with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic again on a revised Gershwin program.  Gershwin Live! was recorded by CBS and won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female.  Her contract with the Pablo label finished in 1982 so she then appeared on Barry Manilow’s 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe and the symphonic piece The Planet is Live, Let it Live.

In 1985 she returned to Europe and the concert In the City of Lights recorded as a double disc was posthumously released. In 1986 she sang “Happy Talk” and “Bali Ha’i” on Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras’ studio recording of South Pacific.  In 1987 she recorded her final album Brazilian Romance and in 1988 was a contributor on a recording of Christmas carols by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony Orchestra.  In 1989 she performed a scat duet with Ella Fitzgerald on Back on the Block by Quincy Jones.

Her health had started to fail in 1989 so she cancelled a series of performances in Europe but managed to appear in Japan.  While performing at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York that same year she received the diagnosis that she was suffering from lung cancer.  She returned to Hidden Hills, California to receive chemotherapy but died in April 1990 after finally returning home from hospital.  She was 66 years old.

From 2004 to 2006 she was paid tribute to by New Jersey Transit which had the lyrics of “Body and Soul” printed on the edge of the platforms of its Newark Light Rail stations and in 2012 she was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  UCLA Spring Sing honoured her with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.