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Sarah Vaughan Still Thrilling Jazz Fans 15 Years After Death

  • Doug Levine

It was the end of an era when jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan died on April 3, 1990. In a career that spanned almost five decades, Vaughan, known as "Sassy" and "The Divine One," thrilled audiences with her intimate musical mastery. Vaughan could deliver heartfelt pop ballads, experiment with new and unusual be-bop time signatures, perform with a classical orchestra one night and swing with a big band the next. Despite Sarah Vaughan's death 15 years ago, her music only gets better with time.

On stage or in the studio, Sarah Vaughan was a natural at bringing new life to old songs. And she did it with such ease that producers wanted to work with her, musicians wanted to accompany her, and audiences couldn't get enough of her golden voice on record or in concert.

One of Vaughan's greatest strengths was her multioctave vocal range that earned her a contract with Columbia Records in 1949. Her 1950 recording of "East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)", featuring trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Billy Taylor in a group led by Vaughan's first husband and manager George Treadwell, is "Sassy" at her finest.

"East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)" appears on a new collection of Sarah Vaughan ballads, titled Love Songs.

Sarah Vaughan honed her piano and vocal skills in her Newark, New Jersey church, and later won an amateur singing contest at the Apollo Theatre in New York. Only 18 years old, she found herself at the center of the city's thriving jazz scene, which drew budding young bop musicians from all over the country. The many famous players Vaughan appeared with over the years reads like a "who's who" of jazz legends: Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstein, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and Count Basie, as well as pianist Tadd Dameron.

Vaughan continued performing well into her 50s, winning a Grammy Award in 1982 for her album, Gershwin Live! She earned another Grammy in 1989 for Lifetime Achievement. In 1990, she was inducted into the Jazz Hall Of Fame. She died of cancer on April 3, 1990, one week after her 66th birthday.

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