Few if any New Jersey jazz artists have had the impact of Sarah Vaughan, widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz singers ever. Mel Tormé once said Vaughan, who had both awe-inspiring technical command and the ability to sing with great emotion, had “the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field”; Frank Sinatra once said she was so good that “when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.”
The main concert room at Newark Symphony Hall is named after Vaughan, who grew up in Newark, and was nicknamed “The Divine One.” So is the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.
Vaughan broke through in the mid 1940s, and remained active into the 1980s. She died in 1990 of lung cancer, at the age of 66.
The clip below finds her in great form, in 1981, singing “I’ve Got the World on a String” at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. She had recorded the 1932 standard, written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, on her 1978 album, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday from Sept. 2014 to Sept. 2015. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. The complete list is here.