link to home  

a Voice of Silk & Silver

By Consuela Lee

I was riding along in my car last Wednesday and did something I rarely do. I turned on the radio. The last words of a news announcement sounded: “… sang with Billy Eckstine’s band. Some of her best known recordings were ‘Tenderly,’ ‘If You Could See Me Now’ and ‘Broken-Hearted Melody’.” I knew, and felt shocked and deeply saddened especially because I was unaware that Sarah Vaughan was seriously ill.

My inner ear recalled the voice that could best be described as silk and silver, an instrument that so wonderfully expressed all the elements of music at once—melody, harmony, rhythm—rolled into a unique style that was indicative of her musical genius.

Vaughan’s death took me back to an encounter that I had with her in 1951. I was playing piano with a band at a night club in Newark, N.J., and Sarah was in the audience. The band leader invited her up to sing a number. She was already an established star whom I greatly admired and I felt honored to accompany her. I learned later that she, being an accomplished pianist, would sometimes request that the pianist relinquish the instrument so that she could accompany herself. Evidently I was sufficiently up on my chord changes that night.

From the beginning of her career, Sarah Vaughan’s repertoire was carefully chosen—jazz ballads, Broadway songs and melodic themes from movies. During the 1960s she seemed forced to take a misguided step into commercialism recording “Broken-Hearted Melody” (much like Nat King Cole did with “Ramblin’ Rose” and other tunes) most possibly in order to survive the onslaught of rock and roll.

I am sure that for an artist of Sarah’s stature this venture was painful. The song and the voice didn’t meld. She knew it, and the world knew it. She went into a semi-retirement for a while, but came back strong in the 1970s again singing beautiful songs divinely.

Sarah Vaughan’s place in the annals of music history is secure and undebatable. She possessed that rare quality found in a few great singers—impeccable musicianship—and she will continue to influence and inspire all jazz singers who follow her.

Though its been almost 40 years ago, I remember distinctly the song Sarah sang on that bandstand in Newark, “There Will Never Be Another You.” It was most appropriate for there will never, ever be another Sarah Vaughan.

Explosive Sara Vaughan


Sara Vaughan Album with 2 images

Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown album cover

Sarah Vaughan early in her carrer

Legendary Sarah Vaughan