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Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan was already one of jazz’s most beloved divas when she opened a week-long run at the Chicago nightspot Mister Kelly’s in the summer of 1957.

While Ella Fitzgerald swung harder and Billie Holiday got deeper into a lyric, no jazz vocalist has ever come close to matching Vaughan’s flawless delivery and sumptuous sound.

A virtuoso with complete control of pitch, timbre and dynamics, Vaughan used her rich contralto voice like a horn, embellishing melodies with the imaginative leaps and compositional structure of the most profound instrumental improvisers.


Known as “Sassy” for her earthy irreverence, Vaughan was a key – though often uncredited – participant in the formation of bebop.

She was best in small group settings and she never had a better band than the trio she took into Mister Kelly’s, with the underrated pianist Jimmy Jones, bass monster Richard Davis and seminal modern jazz drummer Roy Haynes, whose idiosyncratic fills and lightning reflexes made him a perfect foil for Vaughan.

She recorded a live album during her week there – Sarah Vaughan at Mister Kelly’s (1958).