Sarah Vaughan was one of the most influential and acclaimed jazz singers of the 20th century. Her voice, which spanned four octaves and could express a range of emotions and styles, earned her the nicknames “Sassy” and “The Divine One”. She won two Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and was given an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1989. But what was the cause of her death, and how did it relate to her vocal prowess?
The Early Years of Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan was born on March 27, 1924, in Newark, New Jersey, to a musical family. Her father played guitar and piano, and her mother sang in the church choir. Sarah began piano lessons at the age of seven, and soon developed a love for popular music and jazz. She sang in the church choir and played piano for rehearsals and services.
By her mid-teens, she started performing as a pianist and singer in local night clubs, despite being underage. She also dropped out of high school to pursue music full-time. In 1942, she entered and won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she sang “Body and Soul”. The prize was $10 and a week’s engagement at the Apollo. There, she met bandleader and pianist Earl Hines, who offered her a job as his singer.
The Rise of Sarah Vaughan’s Career
Sarah Vaughan joined Earl Hines’ orchestra in 1943, where she met another singer, Billy Eckstine. The following year, she followed Eckstine to his new band, which featured some of the pioneers of bebop, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Vaughan learned from these musicians and developed her own style of improvisation and scat singing.
In 1945, she left Eckstine’s band and began her solo career. She signed with Columbia Records and had her first hit with “Lover Man”. She also worked with some of the best jazz musicians of the time, such as Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Quincy Jones, and Count Basie. She experimented with different genres, such as traditional pop, bossa nova, and soul. She also performed at prestigious venues, such as Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Sarah Vaughan was known for her vocal versatility and virtuosity. She could sing in any key, modulate between registers, bend notes, use vibrato, and mimic instruments. She had a rich tone that could be warm or cool, sweet or sassy, depending on the mood. She also had a playful personality that shone through her performances. She was admired by critics, fans, and fellow musicians alike.
The Decline of Sarah Vaughan’s Health
Sarah Vaughan’s voice was her greatest asset, but it also took a toll on her health. She smoked cigarettes for most of her life, which affected her vocal cords and lungs. She also suffered from hypertension and diabetes, which caused complications in her later years.
In 1989, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She refused to undergo chemotherapy or surgery, opting instead for alternative treatments. She continued to perform until her condition worsened. Her last concert was in New York on November 25th 1989.
She died on April 3rd 1990 at her home in Hidden Hills California at the age of 66.
The Legacy of Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan’s cause of death was lung cancer but her legacy lives on through her music. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time and one of the most influential female vocalists in history. She has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (1980), the American Jazz Hall of Fame (1990), the New Jersey Hall of Fame (2011), and the National Women’s Hall of Fame (2011). She has also been honored with a postage stamp (2001), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2004), and a statue in her hometown of Newark (2012).
Sarah Vaughan’s voice has inspired generations of singers across genres such as jazz pop soul R&B rock gospel blues country folk opera musical theater hip hop rap etc. Some of the artists who have cited her as an influence include Ella Fitzgerald Billie Holiday Frank Sinatra Nat King Cole Tony Bennett Aretha Franklin Nina Simone Diana Ross Whitney Houston Mariah Carey Beyoncé Adele Amy Winehouse Alicia Keys Norah Jones Esperanza Spalding Andra Day etc.
Sarah Vaughan’s cause of death may have been tragic but her voice remains immortal. As she once said: “When I sing trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don’t even notice.”