Queen of Bebop: Miss Sarah Vaughan

The most talked about voice in the 1940’s was indeed Sarah Vaughan, she set the course for modern jazz music and is now often referred to as the Queen of Bebop. 


Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 27, 1924. Outside of their regular jobs, as a carpenter and as a laundress, her parents were also musicians. Growing up in Newark, Vaughan studied the piano and organ, and she also sang as a soloist at Mount Zion Baptist Church. Vaughan’s first step toward becoming a professional singer was taken at a talent contest held at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where Black Americans made their name. After being dared to enter the contest, she won the 1942 competition with her rendition of “Body and Soul.” She also caught the attention of, Billy Eckstine, another artist who persuaded Earl Hines to hire Vaughan to sing with his orchestra.

Professional Career

In 1944, Vaughan left Hines to join Eckstine’s new band. Also working with Eckstine were trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, who introduced the group to a new form of jazz, known as bebop. An inspired Vaughan brought bebop into her singing, which can be heard in the 1945 recording of “Lover Man” that she made with Parker and Gillespie. After performing with Eckstine’s orchestra for a year, Vaughan briefly worked with John Kirby before leaving big bands behind to become a solo artist (though she often reunited with Eckstine for duets). Having already been given the nickname “Sassy” as a commentary on her onstage style, it was while striking out on her own that she was dubbed “The Divine One” by a DJ in Chicago. In the late 1940s, her popular recordings included “If You Could See Me Now” and “It’s Magic.” The next decade saw Vaughan produce more pop music, though when she joined Mercury Records she also recorded jazz numbers on a subsidiary label, EmArcy. She sang hits like “Whatever Lola Wants” (1955), “Misty” (1957), and “Broken-Hearted Melody” (1959), which sold more than a million copies. Vaughan gave concerts in the United States and Europe, and her singing was also heard in films such as Disc Jockey (1951) and Basin Street Revue (1956). After the 1950s, shifting musical tastes meant that Vaughan no longer produced huge hits. However, she remained a popular performer, particularly when she sang live. In front of an audience, her emotional, vibrato-rich delivery, three-octave vocal range, and captivating scat technique were even more appealing. Though her voice took on a deeper pitch as Vaughan got older—likely due in part to her smoking habit—this didn’t impact the quality of her singing, as could be heard on “Send in the Clowns,” a staple in her repertoire. Vaughan’s later recordings include interpretations of Beatles songs and Brazilian music. Over the years, she collaborated with people like producer Quincy Jones, pianist Oscar Peterson, and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Vaughan won her first Grammy thanks to her work with Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Gershwin Live! (1982). 

Awards & Social Involvement

Throughout her career, Vaughan was recognized as a supremely gifted singer and performer. She was invited to perform at the White House and at venues like Carnegie Hall, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1989 and was selected to join the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1990. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Vaughan’s final concert was given at New York’s Blue Note Club in 1989. She passed away from lung cancer on April 3, 1990, at age 66, in Hidden Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Married and divorced four times, she was survived by her adopted daughter. Miss Vaughan’s marriage to Mr. Treadwell ended in divorce, as did her marriages to Clyde Atkins, a professional football player; Marshall Fisher, a Las Vegas restaurateur, and Waymon Reed, a trumpet player. She was survived by her mother, Ada, and a daughter, Deborah Vaughan, who uses the first name Paris for her acting career. Both lived in Los Angeles. Miss Vaughan’s body will be flown to Newark for a funeral service on Saturday at Mount Zion Baptist Church.


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Studio albums

AlbumYearLabelAlbum Number
Sarah Vaughan1950ColumbiaCL 6133
Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown)1954EmArcy
In the Land of Hi-Fi1955EmArcy
My Kinda Love1955MGME3274
Swingin’ Easy1957EmArcy
In A Romantic Mood1957MercuryMG 20223
Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin (with Billy Eckstine)1957Mercury
Sarah Vaughan Sings Broadway: Great Songs from Hit Shows1958Mercury
Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin1958EmArcy
No Count Sarah (with the Count Basie Orchestra)1958EmArcy
Vaughan and Violins1959Mercury
The Magic of Sarah Vaughan1959Mercury
Close to You1960Mercury
My Heart Sings1961Mercury
The Divine One1961Roulette
Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan (with the Count Basie Orchestra)1961Roulette
After Hours1961Roulette
You’re Mine You1962Roulette
Sarah + 21962Roulette
The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan1963Roulette
Sarah Sings Soulfully1963Roulette
We Three (with Joe Williams and Dinah Washington)1963Roulette
The World of Sarah Vaughan1963Roulette
Sweet ‘n’ Sassy1963Roulette
Star Eyes1963Roulette
Sarah Slightly Classical1963Roulette
Sarah Vaughan – EP (with orchestra and chorus directed by Quincy Jones)1963Mercury
The Lonely Hours1964Roulette
Vaughan with Voices1964Mercury
¡Viva! Vaughan1965Mercury
Sarah Vaughan Sings the Mancini Songbook1965Mercury
Pop Artistry of Sarah Vaughan1966Mercury
The New Scene1966Mercury
It’s a Man’s World1967Mercury
Sassy Swings Again1967Mercury
A Time in My Life1971Mainstream
Sarah Vaughan with Michel Legrand (with Michel Legrand)1972Mainstream
Feelin’ Good1972Mainstream
Send in the Clowns1974Mainstream
I Love Brazil!1977Pablo
How Long Has This Been Going On?1978Pablo
The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 11979Pablo
The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 21979Pablo
Songs of The Beatles1981Atlantic
Send in the Clowns (with the Count Basie Orchestra)1981Pablo
Crazy and Mixed Up1982Pablo
The Planet Is Alive…Let it Live! (aka The Mystery of Man)1984Kokopelli
Brazilian Romance1987Columbia

Live albums

At Mister Kelly’s1957Mercury 
After Hours at the London House1959Mercury 
Sassy Swings the Tivoli1963Mercury 
Live in Japan1973Mainstream 
Sarah Vaughan with the Jimmy Rowles Quintet1975Mainstream 
Ronnie Scott’s Presents Sarah Vaughan Live1977Pye 
Gershwin Live! (with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic)1982ColumbiaWon Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female
In the City of Lights1999Justin TimeRecorded in 1985. Posthumous release

Compilation albums

Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi1955ColumbiaCL 745
After Hours1955Columbia
Sarah Vaughan’s Golden Hits!!!1958Mercury
The Complete Sarah Vaughan on Mercuryreleased 1986-1991Mercury/Polygram

Extended plays

Hot Jazz1953Remington
The Divine Sarah Sings1954Mercury

Guest appearances

“I know that my Redeemer liveth” from Part III of Handel‘s Messiah from Quincy Jones‘ soundtrack for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice1969Bell 
“Blue” from Barry Manilow‘s 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe1984Arista 
Bali Ha’i” and “Happy Talk” from South Pacific1986CBS(Studio cast recording with Kiri Te KanawaMandy Patinkin, and José Carreras)
“Wee B. Dooinit”, “Jazz Corner of the World”, “Birdland” and “Setembro” from Quincy Jones‘ Back on the Block1989QwestVaughan’s final recording.



List of singles, with selected chart positions, showing relevant details
TitleYearPeak chart positionsAlbum


If You Could See Me Now1946N/A
Mean to MeN/A
A Hundred Years from Today1947N/A
I Cover the WaterfrontN/A
Tenderly27The Divine Sarah Sings
It’s Magic194811
Nature Boy9N/A
Black Coffee194913N/A
“While You Are Gone”N/A
That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)14N/A
“Fool’s Paradise”N/A
“Our Very Own”195015N/A
“I’m Crazy to Love You”26N/A
“(I Love the Girl) I Love the Guy”10N/A
“Don’t Worry ’bout Me”N/A
“These Things I Offer You (For a Lifetime)”195111N/A
“Out o’ Breath”N/A
Don’t Blame MeN/A
“I Ran All the Way Home”18N/A
“Pinky”1952Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi
“If Someone Had Told Me”N/A
“Street of Dreams”N/A
“My Tormented Heart”N/A
“Sinner or Saint”22N/A
“A Lover’s Quarrel”1953N/A
Spring Will Be a Little Late This YearSarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi
It Might as Well Be Spring
The Nearness of You1954
“Easy Come, Easy Go Lover”N/A
“Come Along with Me”N/A
Old Devil MoonN/A
“Make Yourself Comfortable”6Sarah Vaughan’s Golden Hits
How Important Can It Be195512
Whatever Lola Wants6
“Experience Unnecessary”14N/A
“Johnny Be Smart”N/A
“C’est La Vie”11N/A
Mr. Wonderful13N/A
“Hot and Cold Running Tears”195692N/A
“Fabulous Character”19In A Romantic Mood
“It Happened Again”72In A Romantic Mood
The Banana Boat Song19Sarah Vaughan’s Golden Hits


Brown, Denis. Sarah Vaughan: A Discography : A Discography. Greenwood, 1991. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=152413&site=eds-live.


Goodhope, Pat. “Jazz At The Concertgebouw – Dutch Jazz Archive Series – If This Isn’t Love.” IAJRC Journal, vol. 47, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 82–83. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mah&AN=96191215&site=ehost-live.


“JEN to Participate in Sarah Vaughn Vocal Jazz Competition.” JAZZed: The Jazz Educator’s Magazine, vol. 7, no. 4, July 2012, p. 20. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mah&AN=102780710&site=ehost-live.


Owens, Imani D. “The Most Talked About Voice in America.” Women’s Review of Books, vol. 35, no. 3, May 2018, pp. 14–15. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=129264727&site=eds-live.


“SARAH VAUGHAN • A Time In My Life.” Music Week, Jan. 2015, p. 43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mah&AN=100658840&site=ehost-live.


“The Search for the World’s Next Great Female Jazz Singer.” JAZZed: The Jazz Educator’s Magazine, vol. 8, no. 3, May 2013, p. 21. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mah&AN=102570616&site=ehost-live.


ULLMAN, MICHAEL. “The Jazz Column.” Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 42, no. 4, Mar. 2019, pp. 450–456. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mah&AN=134305648&site=ehost-live.

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