Happy birthday Sarah Lois Vaughan!


Sarah Lois Vaughan (March 27, 1924 – April 3, 1990) was a jazz vocalist who was among the first to straddle pop and critical acclaim. She got her start singing and playing organ in her church’s choir in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. After winning an amateur contest at The Apollo in Harlem, she was picked up by vocalist Billy Eckstein. She went on to sing alongside some of the era’s biggest names. By 1947, Vaughan was forging a solo career and quickly became one of the most beloved vocalists of the twentieth century, selling out large-scale venues well into her sixties. 


Vaughan grew up around music. Her father was a deeply religious amateur guitarist and her mother was a choir singer. She began learning piano at the age of seven and became active in the choir at her family’s church, Mount Zion Baptist. She performed “Body and Soul” at The Apollo when she was just eighteen years old and quickly became a recurring character in New York’s jazz scene. Jazz vocalist Billy Eckstein asked her to accompany him on piano and as a backup vocalist, and it was during that stint that she first performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Body and Soul, 1954

Misty, 1964




Vaughan was renowned for her voice’s smoky timbre and controlled vibrato, and was also known for her ear for bebop harmonies. Performing with Eckstein and his band taught Vaughan how to improvise and she brought that talent along with her as her solo career mushroomed. Her first solo hit came when “Tenderly” topped the charts in 1947. She went on to produce some of the biggest Broadway tunes of the decade, including “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Mr. Wonderful.”  Though she was initially rebuffed by many jazz purists for going pop, the move expanded her audience and her voice become one of the most iconic in the business.

Signing with Mercury Records in 1954 allowed Vaughan to capitalize on her popularity and to continue to explore her musical versatility through a special contract in which she agreed to produce commercial hits for Mercury and more classical jazz material for its subsidiary EmArcy. She recorded In the Land of Hi-Fi under this contract, and it became one of her most critically acclaimed albums to date. 

Tenderly, 1954


Whatever Lola Wants, 1954



Vaughan’s recording career mellowed in the sixties and didn’t pick back up until she began recording for Mainstream Records in 1971. By that time, jazz as Vaughan was performing it was relegated to a relatively niche market, but her following remained substantial. It was during her time with Mainstream Records that she recorded Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” which eventually became her signature ballad over “Tenderly.”

The Man I Love



Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Vaughan was hailed as a pioneer of American jazz. In 1982, her recording Gershwin Live! won a Grammy and she was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. Since then, two of her recordings, Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown and If You Could See Me Now, have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

If You Could See Me Now



Teach Me Tonight, 1978


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 27 March 2014
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