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BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN NJ: A Salute to Newark's 'Sassy' Sarah Vaughan

By rlsmetro on

Newark's Sarah Lois Vaughan was an American jazz singer. Nicknamed "Sassy" and "The Divine One," she won four Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. She was given an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1989.

According to published reports, Vaughan's father, Asbury "Jake" Vaughan, was a carpenter by trade and played guitar and piano. Her mother, Ada Vaughan, was a laundress who sang in the church choir. Jake and Ada Vaughan migrated to Newark from Virginia during the First World War.

Sarah Vaughan was their only biological child, although, in the 1960s, they adopted Donna, the child of a woman who traveled on the road with Vaughan. According to published reports, The Vaughans lived in a house on Brunswick Street in Newark for Vaughan's entire childhood.

The family was active in New Mount Zion Baptist Church at 186 Thomas Street. Vaughan began piano lessons at age 7, sang in the church choir, and played piano for rehearsals and services.

On November 20, 1942, Vaughan returned to the Apollo to open for Ella Fitzgerald.

Reports say during her week of performances at the Apollo, Vaughan was introduced to bandleader and pianist Earl Hines, although the details of that introduction are disputed. Billy Eckstine, Hines' singer at the time, has been credited by Vaughan and others with hearing her at the Apollo and recommending her to Hines. wrote the following regarding Vaughan: "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)".

During a run at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club in 1989, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and was too ill to finish the last day of what would turn out to be her final series of public performances.

Vaughan returned to her home in California to begin chemotherapy and spent her final months alternating stays in the hospital and home. She grew weary of the struggle and demanded to be taken home, where at the age of 66, she died on the evening of April 3, 1990, while watching a television movie featuring her daughter.

Her funeral was held at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 208 Broadway, in Newark, New Jersey. Following the ceremony, a horse-drawn carriage transported her body to Glendale Cemetery, Bloomfield, in New Jersey.


SPONSORS: Metro Media Institute, Nino's Pizza, Bergen Street Harrison NJ, and William Paterson University