Sarah Vaughan (born Sarah Lois Vaughan, March 27, 1924 – April 3, 1990) was an American jazz singer from Newark, New Jersey. She began performing in as teenager and was an accomplished pianist.
Early in her career, Vaughan won the Apollo Theater Amateur Night contest. Vaughan sang “Body and Soul” although the exact date of her victorious Apollo performance is uncertain. The prize was $10 and the promise of a week's engagement at the Apollo. After a considerable delay, Vaughan was contracted by the Apollo in the spring of 1943 to open for Ella Fitzgerald. Sometime during her week of performances at the Apollo, Vaughan was introduced to bandleader and pianist Earl Hines.
Vaughan spent the remainder of 1943 and part of 1944 touring the country singing and playing piano with the Earl Hines big band that also featured baritone Billy Eckstine.. This Earl Hines band is best remembered today as an incubator of bebop, as it included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker and trombonist Bennie Green.
Eckstine left the Hines band in late 1943 and formed his own big band. Vaughan accepted Eckstine's invitation to join his new band in 1944, giving her an opportunity to develop her musicianship with the seminal figures in this era of jazz. The Eckstine band over the next few years would host a startling cast of jazz talent: Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, among others. Vaughan officially left the Eckstine band in late 1944 to pursue a solo career, although she remained very close to Eckstine personally and recorded with him frequently throughout her life.
Vaughan began her solo career in 1945 by freelancing in clubs on New York's 52nd Street such as the Three Deuces, the Famous Door, the Downbeat and the Onyx Club. In 1945, Vaughan recorded “Lover Man” for the Guild label with a quintet featuring Gillespie and Parker with Al Haig on piano, Curly Russell on double bass and Sid Catlett on drums. Later that month she went into the studio with a slightly different and larger Gillespie/Parker aggregation and recorded three more sides. After being invited by violinist Stuff Smith to record the song “Time and Again” in October, Vaughan was offered a contract to record for the Musicraft label by owner Albert Marx, although she would not begin recording as a leader for Musicraft until 1946. In the intervening time, Vaughan made a handful of recordings for the Crown and Gotham labels and began performing regularly at Cafe Society Downtown, an integrated club in New York's Sheridan Square.
Many of Vaughan's 1946 Musicraft recordings became quite well known among jazz aficionados and critics, including “If You Could See Me Now,” “Don't Blame Me,” “I've Got a Crush on You,” “Everything I Have Is Yours” and “Body and Soul.” Vaughan's recording success for Musicraft continued through 1947 and 1948. Her recording of “Tenderly” became an unexpected pop hit in late 1947. Her 1947 recording of “It's Magic” found chart success in early 1948. Her recording of “Nature Boy” became a hit around the same time as the release of the famous Nat King Cole recording of the same song.
Vaughan left Musicraft in order to sign with the larger Columbia record label. Her successes continued with the charting of “Black Coffee” in the summer of 1949. During her tenure at Columbia through 1953, Vaughan was steered almost exclusively to commercial pop ballads, a number of which had chart success: “That Lucky Old Sun,” “Make Believe (You Are Glad When You're Sorry),” “I'm Crazy to Love You,” “Our Very Own,” “I Love the Guy,” “Thinking of You,” “I Cried for You,” “These Things I Offer You,” “Vanity,” “I Ran All the Way Home,” “Saint or Sinner,” “My Tormented Heart” and “Time,” among others.
Vaughan's relationship with Columbia Records soon soured as she became dissatisfied with the commercial material she was required to record and lackluster financial success of her records. A set of small group sides recorded in 1950 with Miles Davis and Bennie Green are among the best of her career, but they were atypical of her Columbia output.
In 1953, a unique contract was negotiated for Vaughan with Mercury Records. She would record commercial material for the Mercury label and more jazz-oriented material for its subsidiary EmArcy. Vaughan was paired with producer Bob Shad and their excellent working relationship yielded strong commercial and artistic success. Her debut Mercury recording session took place in February 1954 and she stayed with the label through 1959. After a stint at Roulette Records (1960 to 1963), Vaughan returned to Mercury from 1964 to 1967.
Vaughan's commercial success at Mercury began with the 1954 hit, “Make Yourself Comfortable,” recorded in the fall of 1954, and continued with a succession of hits, including: “How Important Can It Be” (with Count Basie), “Whatever Lola Wants,” “The Banana Boat Song,” “You Ought to Have A Wife” and “Misty.” Her commercial success peaked in 1959 with “Broken Hearted Melody,” which became her first gold record and a regular part of her concert repertoire for years to come. Vaughan was reunited with Billy Eckstine for a series of duet recordings in 1957 that yielded the hit “Passing Strangers.”
When Vaughan's contract with Mercury Records ended in late 1959, she immediately signed on with Roulette Records, a small label owned by Morris Levy, who was one of the backers of New York's Birdland, where she frequently appeared. Vaughan began recording for Roulette in April 1960, making a string of strong large ensemble albums arranged and/or conducted by Billy May, Jimmy Jones, Joe Reisman, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Lalo Schifrin, and Gerald Wilson. Surprisingly, she also had some pop chart success in 1960 with “Serenata.” She also made a pair of intimate vocal/guitar/double bass albums of jazz standards: “After Hours” in 1961 with guitarist Mundell Lowe and double bassist George Duvivier and “Sarah + 2” in 1962 with guitarist Barney Kessell and double bassist Joe Comfort.
When her contract with Roulette ended in 1963, Vaughan returned to the more familiar confines of Mercury Records. In the summer of 1963, Vaughan went to Denmark with producer Quincy Jones to record four days of live performances with her trio, resulting in the album, “Sassy Swings the Tivoli,” an excellent example of her live show from this period. Unfortunately, the Tivoli recording would be the brightest moment of her second stint with Mercury. At the conclusion of her Mercury deal in 1967, she was left without a recording contract for the remainder of the decade.
In 1971, Bob Shad, who had worked with her as producer at Mercury Records, asked her to record for his new record label, Mainstream Records. Basie veteran Ernie Wilkins arranged and conducted her first Mainstream album, “A Time In My Life” in 1971. In 1972, Vaughan recorded a collection of ballads written, arranged and conducted by Michel Legrand. Arrangers Legrand, Peter Matz, Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson teamed up for Vaughan's third Mainstream album, “Feelin' Good.” Vaughan also recorded “Live in Japan,” a live album in Tokyo with her trio in September 1973. During her sessions with Legrand, Bob Shad presented “Send In The Clowns,” a Stephen Sondheim song from the Broadway musical “A Little Night Music,” to Vaughan for consideration. The song would become her signature, replacing the chestnut “Tenderly” that had been with her from the beginning of her solo career.
Unfortunately, Vaughan's relationship with Mainstream soured in 1974 and she left the label. In 1977, Norman Granz, who was also Ella Fitzgerald's manager, signed Vaughan to his Pablo Records label. Vaughan had not had a recording contract for three years, although she had recorded a 1977 album of Beatles songs with contemporary pop arrangements for Atlantic Records that was eventually released in 1981. Vaughan's first Pablo release was “I Love Brazil,” recorded with an all-star cast of Brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro in the fall of 1977. It garnered a Grammy nomination.
The Pablo contract resulted in a total of seven albums: a second and equally wondrous Brazilian record, “Copacabana,” again recorded in Rio in 1979, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” in 1978, two 1979 “Duke Ellington Songbook” albums, “Send In The Clowns” in 1981 and “Crazy and Mixed Up” in 1982.
Vaughan remained quite active as a performer during the 1980s and began receiving awards recognizing her contribution to American music and status as an important elder stateswoman of jazz. After the conclusion of her Pablo contract in 1982, Vaughan did only a limited amount of studio recording. She made a guest appearance in 1984 on Barry Manilow's “2:00 AM Paradise Cafe,” an album of original pastiche compositions that featured a number of established jazz artists. Vaughan's final complete album was “Brazilian Romance,” produced and composed by Sérgio Mendes and recorded primarily in the early part of 1987 in New York and Detroit.
In 1985, Vaughan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1988, Vaughan was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed upon her its “highest honor in jazz,” the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989. Two of her recordings, “Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown” and “If You Could See Me Know” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Vaughan died in 1990 after battling lung cancer.