One of the elite vocalists in jazz, ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers, Sarah Vaughan possessed a perfectly controlled vibrato and wide expressive abilities, along with incredible command that allowed her to do anything she wanted with her voice. A veteran of the bebop era who had come up in the Billy Eckstine big band of the mid 1940s, by 1975 Vaughan was in the autumn of her years. The soaring soprano of her youth had dropped in register to a sultry contralto range, and she carried herself with regal bearing to match her nickname, "The Divine One."
Born on March 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey, she sang in the church choir as a child and began piano lessons at age seven. After winning a talent show at the Apollo Theater in 1942 (she wowed the judges with a remarkably mature reading of "Body and Soul"), Sarah Vaughan was hired as a singer for the Earl Hines big band in April of 1943. When Billy Eckstine left the Hines band to form his own bebop big band (with such stellar players as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, and Art Blakey), Vaughan joined him, later making her recording debut with Eckstine's outfit in 1945. After recording with John Kirby in 1946, Vaughan set out on a solo career, recording a string of tunes on the Musicraft label from 1946 to 1948 (including such hits as "Tenderly," "If You Could See Me Now," "Nature Boy," and "It's Magic").
During the 1950s, Sarah Vaughan recorded several volumes of Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and Irving Berlin songbooks for Mercury along with jazz dates for the label's subsidiary, EmArcy (including a memorable 1954 recording with Clifford Brown entitled Sarah Vaughan). She later recorded for Roulette (1960-64), Mercury (1963-67), and Mainstream (1971-74) before hooking up Norman Granz's Pablo label (1977-82). She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1988 was inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame. Vaughan was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989 and passed away on April 4, 1990 at her home in Los Angeles.