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Sarah Vaughan

A photo of Sarah Vaughan.

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

Singer Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) of Newark launched her jazz career at the world-renowned Apollo theatre’s amateur-night contest.

As a young girl, Vaughan had perfected her talents through piano and organ lessons. By the age of twelve, she had started singing in the choir and playing the organ at Mount Zion Baptist Church. She later attended the Arts High School in Newark. After her legendary Apollo performance, Vaughan often performed on television under the affectionately-chosen moniker “Sassy.”

Vaughan possessed an impressive three-octave range and established herself as one of the greatest jazz singers and pianists in history. She received the 1989 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame not long before her death in 1990.


Street sign at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, New Jersey.
Courtesy, Penny Colman Collection



Gourse, Leslie. Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.

Brown, Denis. Sarah Vaughan: A Discography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Hall, Jeanette. “Using a Feminist Digital Humanities Approach: Critical Women’s History 

through Covers of ‘Black Coffee’.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 39, no. 

1 (2018): 1-23.

Barrow, John. “Singer Sarah Vaughn Wins Stardom After Ten Years.” Atlanta Daily World (1932-2003), June 29, 1955.

Questions to Explore

Why was Vaughan known as “Sassy” on television?

What were some of Vaughan’s songs about?

What does Vaughan’s music mean for black women?

Additional Resources

Vaughan Sarah Nancy Wilson Chaka Khan Gene A Davis Keith Putnam George Dafney Andy Simpkins Harold Jones Lew Matthews and Bruce Lett dirs. 2014. Great Women Singers of the 20th Century : Sarah Vaughan Nancy Wilson Chaka Khan. Publisher not identified. https://worldcat.org/title/892755411.

Vaughan Sarah David Peck Phillip Galloway Tom Gulotta Richard Davis Ronnell Bright Art Morgan Buster Williams Kirk Stuart and George Hughes dirs. 2007. Sarah Vaughan : Live in ’58 & ’64. Reelin’ in the Years Productions ; Naxos. https://worldcat.org/title/1052707572.

Gourse Leslie. 1994. Sassy : The Life of Sarah Vaughan 1St Da Capo Press ed. New York: Da Capo Press. https://worldcat.org/title/30157101.

Ruuth Marianne. 1994. Sarah Vaughan. Los Angeles: Melrose Square Pub. https://worldcat.org/title/31917187.