Sarah Vaughan : A Divine Jazz Pioneer

Apr 13, 2021

(WEAA) - Sarah Vaughan was an American jazz vocalist and pianist in the early 1940s.


She plays a role in jazz history, being known for the versatility of her vocal ability.



Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Sarah Vaughan was the daughter of amateur musicians.


She developed a love for music at the age of 7, studying piano and organ along with singing in the church choir at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.


As a teenager, Vaughan illegally ventured into Newark’s nightclubs and performed as a pianist and singer at the Piccadilly Club.


She dropped out of high school in order to pursue her musical interests. 


In the fall of 1942, Vaughan was persuaded by a friend to enter the Apollo Theatre Amateur Night contest where she sang “Body and Soul” and won the contest.


After winning the contest, she opened for Ella Fitzgerald and was discovered by Billy Eckstine which resulted in her being hired as a singer and second pianist by the Earl Hines Orchestra.


A year later, she joined Billy Eckstine’s band where she had the experience of working with influential jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. They collaborated and recorded the song “Lover Man” in 1945.


After leaving Eckstine’s band, Vaughan temporarily worked in the John Kirby band before beginning her solo career.


During the 1950s, her audience began to expand as she toured the United States and Europe. Vaughan signed with Mercury Record Corporation and would eventually work with bandleaders such as Count Basie, Benny Carter, Frank Foster, and Quincy Jones.


In 1989, Vaughan’s health began to decline. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and was unable to finish what would turn out to be her last series of public performances.


At the age of 66, she died on April 3, 1990. Her funeral was held at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in her hometown, Newark, New Jersey.


During her lifetime, Sarah Vaughan won 4 Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. She was known to have one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.  

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