March 27, 1923 –April 3, 1990
Nicknamed “Sassy” “The Divine One” Sarah Lois Vaughn was a Grammy award winner and National Endowment For The Arts JazzMaster (1989). Born in Newark New Jersey, she began playing piano in church at the age of seven and coming from a deeply religious family she found herself sneaking out regularly to hear the secular music of the era. She entered and won 1st place in the famed Apollo theatre amateur contest and was rewarded $10 and a one week opening engagement with Ella Fitzgerald in the spring of 1943. It is during that same engagement in April 1943 that she was introduced to Earl “Fatha” Hines who immediately signed her with his band replacing his then male singer Billy Eckstine who later returned to the band and kept her as HIS pianist. Vaughn continued to accompany Eckstine even after Eckstine left to form his own band with Dizzy Gillespie.
Sarah began her solo performing career in 1945 playing in New York clubs and recording with Dizzy Gillespie and eventually hiring George Treadwell as manager. Treadwell persuaded her to dress more attractively, get new dental work and fine tune her stage presence and by 1947 she was a “pop star” with a new recording of her hit “Tenderly”. She won “Esquire Magazine’s” new Star award and by the early 50’s she was a regular feature in Downbeat magazine.
“Sassy- The Life of Sarah Vaughn by: Leslie Gourse is almost required reading for jazz vocalist historians.
Recording well over 77 albums during her career her musical associates include Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Blakey, Miles, Kenny Durham, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver…the list is endless. Recordings of Vaughn were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Her last of three marriages (the 1st was with Mgr. Treadwell) was to Waymen Reed (former Trumpeter with James Brown and Count Basie). The relationship ended in divorce 1981.
Vaughan was diagnosed with lung cancer and returned to her home in California to begin chemotherapy and spent her final months alternating stays in the hospital and at home. Vaughan grew weary of the struggle and demanded to be taken home, where she died on the evening of April 3, 1990, while watching a television movie featuring her daughter, a week after her 66th birthday.