She was born march 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey. Her nickname was "Sass" and "The Devine One". She died April 3, 1990 in Los Angeles California of lung cancer. Her real name was Lois, the daughter of Asbury, a carpenter and Ada, a laundress. She began studying music when she was seven taking eight years of piano lessons and two years on the organ. As a child she sang in the choir at the MT Zion. Baptist church in Newark. She went on to play the piano and organ in high school productions, where she graduated arts high school. She entered an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem district singing "body & soul". She won the $10 prize and a week's engagement at the Apollo. From 1944 to 1945 she sang with Billy Eckstein and in 1947 she married her manager and trumpeter George Treadwell. Her later husbands included pro football player Clyde Atkins and trumpeter Waymon Reed. She has received many awards including an Emmy in 1981 for a tribute to George Gershwin and a Grammy Award in 1983.
More about Sass:
"Her voice, which has four octaves and out-classes that of most operatic sopranos, came in unequal parts, a rich middle section, a little-girl high register, and a sometimes vulgar, echoing bottom range. She uses it like a horn . . . " wrote Whitney Balliett, in New Yorker Magazine, July, 1977. (Balliett is a writer of America's unique art form, jazz. His criticism is esteemed by fans and colleagues wherever music is performed.)
Sarah's extraordinary virtuosity and range of appeal were shaped by a wide variety of musical influences. At age seven she began her formal musical education inspired by her mother. Ada, who sang in the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, the town where Sarah was born. At 'home, her father, Asbury, filled many hours with music. He loved playing the piano and records. Sarah joined her mother singing in the choir and started her musical education with piano and organ lessons.. She continued her formal lessons during her term at East Side Music and Arts High School.
At age 16, family and friends persuaded Sarah to enter the amateur show at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. She won. The prizes were $10.00 cash and a week's engagement. Ella Fitzgerald was the artist appearing at the theatre when Sarah performed during her winning week. Ella was one of Sarah's early inspirations and it was Sarah's wish to one day record with Ella and do a TV special together. Billy EckStine was in the audience and recommended Sarah to Earl "Fatha" Hines. He was band vocalist with Earl at the time. Sarah was hired as singer and second pianist for the band. After she and Billy worked wth Earl for over year, Eckstine formed his own, now legendary, band. The personnel included, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker and Gene Ammons with Sarah and Billy as vocalists. They developed a style of music called bebop and the band is now recognized as the finest of that era. Billy and Sarah maintained their lifelong friendship. They lived near one another and often visited, and enjoy talking about old and new times. They performed together on the "The Great American Singers" with Tony Bennett and loved every minute of working together. Sarah and Billy were the first singers to explore the revolutionary freedoms of the bop style. Her nightly performances with the master musicians she sang with, taught her timing, technique and showmanship. Her amazing, awesome, natural talent, combined with the love for her profession, has earned her world- wide accolades.
Sarah's outstanding qualities were apparent right from the start. In 1944, Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie made an acetate of Sarah singing "East of the Sun" and they brought it to Leonard Feather, who was determined to find a record company that might be interested. After many turn-downs, he finally found. an independent producer willing to give Sarah a trial. He was willing to pay her 520.00 per side. Dizzy, Georgie Auld and some others wanted to lend a hand to help launch Sarah's career. They agreed to play for union scale $30.00 in those days: on that New Year's Eve they cut Sarah's first record.
Soon after she left Billy's band, she joined the John Kirby Combo, and went on to star with her own group, a trio of fine musicians. Sarah has always surrounded herself with excellent musicians and their performances have contributed to her being recognized as a great American singer.
Through the years, Sarah had broadened and enriched her early influences. Her delivery and repertoire embraced every type of music: gospel, jazz, classical and pop. She enjoyed the great distinction of being an incomparable jazz performer with the range and ability of an opera singer. She was equally at home with a jazz trio or a symphony orchestra.
She gained national attention when a company released, "Dedicated to Your" with the Billy Eckstine orchestra, recorded in 1949. In the 50's, Sarah recorded "Shulie A Bop" with her own trio of John Malachi, Joe Benjamin and Roy Haynes. Her instrumental scat choruses had a precision that put subsequent instrumental solos to shame. This caused John Malachi, her one-time accompanist, to nickname her "Sassy" for her special rendition of the individual notes and phrasing. "The Divine One" another name often used for Sarah was first used by Dave Garroway, who recognized her unique talent long before her popular acclaim. When he first heard her singing in Chicago's Blue Note, he rushed to spread the word to his radio and TV audience.
Sarah continued to have that kind of impact throughout the years, and there were few who could equal her imagination and humor in performance. She was that rare combination of beautifully controlled tone and vibrato - she had an ear for the chord structure of songs, enabling her to change or inflect the melody as an instrumentalist might. An exceptional artist with the highest creative standards, and a consistent popularity poll winner. She will always remain one of the greats. We miss her.
Sam's Stories with Sass
Regrets: Around 1976, I wrote a children's play titled Cancel Christmas. Sass read it, and was one of the ones who suggested I write it in a book form. In 1994, four years after her passing, I started converting it to a book. In 1996 it was published with out illustrations. I regret now that I didn't dedicate it to her. When I get the illustrated copy published, I wont forget. The illustrated version is now ready for publishing with beautiful illustrations by an artist who uses cutouts as her media.
This morning (Sunday, August 28, 2011) I was listening to KJAZZ 88,1 fm on the radio as I was driving to a Spiritual Center in Burbank. It was my first time there, and I was hoping this would be a center that would be to my liking.
As I pulled into the parking structure KJAZZ started play "Take the 'A' Train" - one of my favorites. I parked and sat in the car listening to her sing. All of her memories flooded into my head and I got very teary eyed.
When I walked into the center, my eyes were still watering as I was greeted by a lady who reminded me of Sass. I flooded; she asked me what was wrong and I told her. She was warm and welcoming; we immediately became friends.
The pastor came over and introduced herself to me. On stage she gave a talk that reaffirmed my feelings and reminded me of a few I had forgotten. The meeting was held in a modern theater. As I sat there listening I was noticing the theatre. During a period of meditation, it came to me; this is where I want to produce "Cancel Christmas". I have been getting so many signs about it lately, that I considered this another message from the universe.
With Michel Legrand
One Day Sass told me Michel Legrand was coming over that night. She asked me to stay to meet him. Marshall, her husband and I had just returned from a ball game. (Marshall, If you read this please contact me. Sam) Sass fixed some of her fantastic Chicken. She made the best Chicken. Once when I house sat for her while she was in Australia, I bought a bunch of chicken on the day of her return. I picked them up at the airport and suggested that she might like some chicken. It was waiting for her and she got busy and cooked the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten.
Back to Michel Legrand. He arrived with his manager, Nate. We sat in the den by the fireplace while they discussed an upcoming concert. Nate explained all of the details while we all listened. When he was finished talking, Sass said that everything sounded fine except that she didn't hear any mention of strings. She said, "I like strings". Nate explained that they wanted to show Michel's talent without the use of strings.
Sass said that she recognized Michel's talent; she felt he could do no wrong, with or with out strings, but she liked string accompaniment - it gave her inspiration, and since this was a full orchestra concert, she would like to have strings. Nate was not going to give in to her wishes. Michel added a few words about it, but wasn't pushing it. After some exchanges, I butted in and asked them (Sass And Michel) if they had ever sat down and listened to the album they had recorded together. They both said, "no."
I knew Sass had a copy of it, because I had played it several days before. ("Sarah Vaughan With Michel Legrand") - If anyone reading this has an extra copy, please send me one. I suggested they listen to some of it. I also knew there were strings on that session. I got the record and put it on. After the first number, Michel looked at Nate and said, "She gets Strings."
I didn't make the concert. Marshal told me it was fantastic.
I looked for his records but never found any. Then around 1990 my son, Torre found a CD for me. I play my conga to it and have always enjoyed it. The other day I was reading the CD’s label and discovered that Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead had produced it. There was a time when Mickey and I were friends, I still admire his talent and his musical ideas. I used to go down (I was living in Sonoma at the time.) to his ranch in Navato, CA, where he had a studio set up in his barn. That’s another story; click here to read it.
J. Clarke's 915 3rd Ave
Hall - Ray Charles
When I first met Paula she was planning to move to New York. I connected her with Sass and CB hired her to work in their office. I was panning on joining her in New York, but I took too long and Paula moved back.
While Sass was at the Fairmont I invited Sass and her Husband CB. Atkins to dinner - Paula and I had an apartment on Broadway between Hyde and Larkin. I cooked suki yaki. I used too much soy sauce, but they loved it and ate a lot. We had a fine time.
In 1967 when we moved to New York, Sass used to stop by our apartment on York Ave. near 72nd st., before going to one of her gigs. Duchess was still with us and she liked Sass.
At the Circle Star Theatre Near San Francisco.
At the Troubadour in Hollywood