When Sarah (Vaughan) Sings

How can I describe
The voice of the Divine One?
It was smooth and supple,
Dexterous with a silky vibrato,
Yet it was husky, mature,
Lush and ornate as a velvet-covered divan.
It was not young and maidenly;
It was the voice of a deeply sensual woman:
Dancing, inviting, promising…
The voice of Desire,
The play and languid yearning
Of Desire.
It is said of her
That she could make a grown man cry
With the expressiveness of her voice,
And I believe it.

Her phrasing was precise, yet warm.
She couldn't rain notes like a coloratura,
Yet what she could do to one syllable
Had all the passion and earnestness of the best operatic divas.
Such brilliant, almost diabolical mastery!:
The soft bends over wide intervals,
The wild, capricious scatting
That earned her a reputation as a musically intelligent improviser,
Equal in many ways to an instrumentalist,
And that sweet, fluttering vibrato!
Yet she was more than technique,
More than windy winning skill.
She could tease and invite with her tone,
Sigh and blush, scold and praise.
Her tone was sultry and electric,
Yet like many of the best singers,
She had a sense of humor that often emerged
In her inflections and style.

In good singers
You may hear precision:
Notes deployed with skill and intelligence,
Clarity and maybe a dazzling range.
In better singers, you hear also
Distinctive style and personality,
A stamp of ownership that
Immediately identifies them.
But in the best singers,
You have all this and more…
You hear the soul of a person or persons
Calling to you.
You can feel their passions,
The hopes and the torments
That soar at the heights of human ecstasy
Or drown in the depths of human despair.
You hear longing, adoration, wit,
Laughter, grief, defiance.
You hear an aspect of Shakespeare
Condensed to a moment of song.
The greatest singers both dazzle and move,
And they are rare indeed.

Just listen to "Misty" or "Speak Low"
As Sarah sings them.
I can say little more that will convey the sense of it.
Listen and be grateful that we live in a world
Where the voices of the departed
May be recalled from the implacable silence of Death!
(How many voices of angels have been lost to time
Until the days of recordings?! How many?)
There will be new voices and new songs,
Yet there is ample wealth that is, even now,
Ours for the keeping.
Listen and be richer!

George Chadderdon © 2002