Sunday, April 15, 2007
Sarah Vaughan might have the loveliest voice in the history of the United States.
You know, the original hit with Judy Garland is excellent. Judy Garland could sing. But not like this. This is a person who has an enormous instrument at their disposal, and is using all their effort to determine what they'd like to sing, not what they can sing. Such cultivated ability is a rare thing indeed.
She won that old version of the talent contest, the Apollo Theater Open Audition Night. It's piquant that she just accompanied her friend on piano first, and then thought: "I could do that." Yes, you could.
She learned to sing in church, like so many good singers do. You are contemplating the divine and expressing devotion in church. Those things come in handy wherever you go. Her singing could help a man hunched over a tablesaw to think of the sublime and important and beautiful while working, for instance. The whole wide world is an altar to worship at, isn't it?
If you go looking for it, you can see some seedy patches in Sarah Vaughan's background. Why do it? There she is in the video, forever preserved in a glamorous amber for you -- elegant, assured; at the height of her abilities. Why go backstage and see the soiled back of the curtains; the dripping faucet in the shabby dressing room; the men that did not love her, really, just grubbed after her money, or loved her but made her life a shambles? It's not the face she tried to show us.
The people in the talent contests nowadays can't sing much. What singing they do is mindless melisma spittle learned in lessons suited to singing at strip-mall banquet hall weddings. And the shows they use to showcase these karaoke attention mongers are all about looking at the man behind the curtain. And the rarest of things in entertainment is any man behind the curtain that doesn't give you the urge to wash your hand in bleach after you shake theirs. Why go there? Real performers go there because they must, because it is the place the sap is collected to be boiled down to make something worthwhile. Why would you want to lick the tree? It the maple syrup you want.
Sarah Vaughan's singing is the syrup.