Sarah Vaughn, “The Divine One”

Sarah Vaughan c. 1946 by William P. Gottlieb (source)

Sarah Vaughan c. 1946 by William P. Gottlieb (source)

Sarah Vaughan, known as “Sassy” or “The Divine One”, was born on March 27, 1924, and described by one critic as “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.” She was an American pianist and jazz singer, winner of both a Grammy and the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award. Born to Jake and Ada Vaughn, she was raised in a musical household. Her father, a carpenter by trade, played guitar and piano and her mother sang in the church choir. Sarah was playing piano and singing at an early age.

Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Sarah was exposed to the live music scene as a teenager and began visiting night clubs and performing before she was legally old enough. In spite of entering the Newark Arts High School, the first arts magnet school in the US, her “nocturnal adventures” took their toll and she dropped out of school to concentrate on music during her junior year. Soon she began visiting the Apollo Club in New York City. In 1942, after playing piano for a friend who won second place in the Apollo Amateur Night contest, Sarah decided to enter herself as a singer. This resulted in an offer to open for Ella Fitzgerald in the spring of 1943 and her long career began.

Sarah Vaughn performed until 1989, just one year before her death from cancer. She was described as having “the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field” (Mel Tormé), and “what may well be the finest voice ever applied to jazz” (New York Times critic John Wilson.)

Find out what else happened on March 27 in Women’s History.

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