Speaking Volumes: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan and International Black Women in Jazz Month

In 2016, Sarah Vaughan, one of America’s greatest female jazz vocalists, was featured on the U.S. postage stamp; the stamp sheet was designed to look like a 45 rpm record sleeve.

The reverse side of the stamp sheet listed some of the songs she was most famous for performing, including “Body and Soul,” “Misty,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “Autumn in New York,” “Key Largo” and “Lover Man.”

We recognize what would have been Vaughan’s 95th birthday during March, which also celebrates International Black Women in Jazz Month.

Other famous African-American women in jazz from bygone eras include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Nina Simone.

To learn more about them, check out “Stormy Weather: the Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen” by Linda Dahl. Kids can learn about these great musicians, too, in the children’s book “Sophisticated Ladies: the Great Women of Jazz” by Leslie Gourse.

Vaughan was born in New Jersey to parents who were also musicians. She sang in the church choir and won a talent competition at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1942, singing the jazz standard “Body and Soul.” The success of this performance launched her singing career at the height of the swing and big band jazz era, and just as bebop was beginning to emerge as a new jazz style.

Vaughan’s heyday was in the 1940s and 1950s, when she worked with other famous jazz and pop musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Billy Eckstine.

Sassy, a nickname for Vaughan, recorded more than 50 albums in her lifetime, showcasing her vocal range that could go from soprano to baritone.

To learn more about Vaughan’s often difficult life and storied career, read the recent biography “The Queen of Bebop” by Elaine Hayes.

Hayes reveals “how Vaughan helped desegregate American airwaves, opening doors for future African-American artists seeking mainstream success, while also setting the stage for the civil rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s”.

Her last live performances, before her death in 1990, were at the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in New York.

While Vaughan was influential in the world of bebop jazz, she also recorded many swing, Brazilian bossa nova and Broadway albums, the last in 1987.

Her influence on the world of music and on women in music was widespread; listen to contemporary female jazz singers on the music recording “Women in Jazz.”

Find many more musical recordings in the jazz genre in our digital app Hoopla as well.

Call your local branch for more information on available titles.

Central Library — 941-748-5555;

Braden River — 941-727-6079;

Island — 941-778-6341;

Palmetto — 941-722-3333;

Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;

South Manatee — 941-755-3892.

You also can access the library via the internet at

Ericka Dow is an information services supervisor at the Downtown Central Library. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.

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