Our current KEXP Documentary series Sirens of Jazz features great women vocalists: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Betty Carter and today we look at the mysterious Sarah Vaughan. To her public she seemed shy and composed. They called her “The Divine One.” But to her band members she was known as “Sassy,” a woman who could hold her own on the road with a bunch of guys. Sometimes they even called her “Sailor,” ’cause apparently she could cuss like the best of them.
Sarah Vaughan was a tough girl from Newark, New Jersey whose performance at an amateur contest in the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1942 got her a gig with the Earl Hines band. She was also a talented pianist, earning the (hard-to-get) respect of the other players. Her voice ranged 3 octaves and her career lasted 5 decades. And she came up with other cutting-edge artists of her time like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the era of be-bop. Sarah Vaughan is hailed as one of the most sophisticated musicians of all times, despite the fact that her main instrument was her voice. But who was she, really?
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. With assistance from John Felthous, Abe Beeson, Tiffany Grobelski and Mary Janisch. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.