SASSY: The Life of Sarah Vaughan by Leslie Gourse

SASSY: The Life of Sarah Vaughan

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Life of the ""Divine One,"" by the author of the well-received Nat King Cole bio Unforgettable (1991). Gourse has a lively subject in Vaughan (1924-90), whose voice was a soaring and dipping bebop instrument that charmed most listeners but also bored or offended a few with its slow and seemingly overinvolved delivery. Musicians adored playing with Vaughan, although her later repertoire--with its saccharine Percy Faith strings, Beatles tunes, and pop sentiments--saddened purists. Vaughan doesn't provide Course with as dramatic a personal history as did Cole. Choir-singing Vaughan showed early talent in Newark, with an ear for copying with voice and piano anything she heard on radio. She skipped school or climbed out the bedroom window to hear musicians at clubs or in theaters. Despite adulation by Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, and others who hired her, she was gap-toothed, rail-thin, and shy until her first husband, trumpeter George Treadwell, revamped her, had her teeth capped, and became her manager. With a phenomenal ear for chords, Vaughan always felt she'd learned most from her work with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, though she long thought her best recordings were with trumpeter Clifford Brown. Later, she took up concertizing and even worked with symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Life with her husband dissolved into fighting, with Treadwell overbearing, abusive, and jealous--though he could be charming and generous as well. Eventually, Vaughan had five, often jealous, husbands and won and lost several fortunes. She died of lung cancer and was mourned by musicians everywhere. Says Course: ""In her twenties and thirties, her voice had been as light and brilliant as fine wine; by her sixties it was as robust as cognac."" Too much shifting bandstand personnel to keep steady interest.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0306805782
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribners