Born in Newark, N.J., on March 27, 1924, Vaughan grew up singing in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church and took piano and organ lessons. In 1943, she was hired by Earl Hines as a singer and pianist, after winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre for singing "Body And Soul." The following year, she was with Eckstine, who had recommended her to Hines. After a short stint with John Kirby, she went solo. Her early sides for Musicraft, such as Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" and "Tenderly" (her first hit) were among the hippest records of their day, championed by forward-thinking musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, with whom she recorded "Lover Man." Vaughan recorded Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" in 1944, under the title "Interlude."
While contracted to Columbia Records, from 1949-'54, Vaughan became an international star, recording mostly commercial albums, many of them backed by strings, though in 1950 she recorded with an octet that included Miles Davis. In the mid-'50s, she began to record jazz on the EmArcy label, producing two classic albums, Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown, and Swingin' Easy, with Richard Davis, Roy Haynes and others.
During her last period, Vaughan recorded for Pablo, producing two excellent albums of Duke Ellington songs. Dozens of her recordings remain in print. Though she disavowed being strictly a jazz singer, until her death on April 3,1990, in Los Angeles, Vaughan was a jewel in the triple crown of modern jazz vocalists, along with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1985, Vaughan was elected by the Readers into the Down Beat Hall of Fame.