One of the Glories of Jazz, the Voice of Sultry, Sassy Sarah Vaughan, Is Silenced

updated 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Her friends called her Sassy, and she had the feisty manner of a kitten with dangerously sharp claws. But when Sarah Vaughan broke into enthralling song, she was never anything less than the Divine One. "Boy, she knew some notes to hold," her friend Dizzy Gillespie said after Vaughan died last week at the age of 66. "She approached the music like a horn player, and, whoo-whee, was she bad." Even Ella Fitzgerald once called Vaughan "the greatest singing talent in the world today." And others were in awe of her improvisational skills. "We're talking about one of the finest vocalists in the history of pop music," said Frank Sinatra.

Born in Newark, N.J., Vaughan inherited her love of music from her father, Asbery, a carpenter, and her mother, Ada, now 87, a laundress and a singer in a Baptist choir. After winning an amateur-night contest performing "Body and Soul" at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, Vaughan toured with bands led by Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine, quickly learning to trade curses with the most incorrigible boys in the band. She received national attention when she recorded "Lover Man" in 1945, backed by Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In 1989 she capped a sensational career by winning a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Last September doctors discovered Vaughan had cancer. She responded well to treatment and even made plans to record a new album this month with Quincy Jones. "I'll do it," she said, "even if I have to sing on my back." But Vaughan, who had been married and divorced four times, never made it to that last session. Survived by her mother and her adopted only child, daughter Paris, 24, Vaughan died in her home in the Hidden Hills suburb of Los Angeles.

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