Possessor of one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers. She often gave the impression that with her wide range, perfectly controlled vibrato, and wide expressive abilities, she could do anything she wanted with her voice. Sarah Vaughan's legacy as a performer and a recording artist will be very difficult to match in the future.
After she won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater, she was hired for the Earl Hines big band as a singer and second vocalist. Unfortunately, the musicians' recording strike kept her off record during this period (1943-44). When lifelong friend Billy Eckstine broke away to form his own orchestra, Vaughan joined him, making her recording debut. She loved being with Eckstine's orchestra, where she became influenced by a couple of his sidemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, both of whom had also been with Hines during her stint. Vaughan was one of the first singers to fully incorporate bop phrasing in her singing, and to have the vocal chops to pull it off on the level of a Parker and Gillespie.
Other than a few months Sarah Vaughan spent the remainder of her career as a solo star.
Billy Eckstine's smooth baritone and distinctive vibrato broke down barriers throughout the 1940s, first as leader of the original bop big-band, then as the first romantic black male in popular music. An influence looming large in the cultural development of soul and R&B singers from Sam Cooke to Prince, Eckstine was able to play it straight on his pop hits "Prisoner of Love," "My Foolish Heart" and "I Apologize."
After working his way west to Chicago during the late '30s, Eckstine was hired by Earl Hines to join his Grand Terrace Orchestra in 1939. Though white bands of the era featured males singing straightahead romantic ballads, black bands were forced to stick to novelty or blues vocal numbers until the advent of Eckstine and Herb Jeffries (from Duke Ellington's Orchestra).
Though several of Eckstine's first hits with Hines were novelties like "Jelly, Jelly" and "The Jitney Man," he also recorded several straightahead songs, including the hit "Stormy Monday." By 1943, he gained a trio of stellar bandmates - Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. After forming his own big band that year, he hired all three and gradually recruited still more modernist figures and future stars: Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, and Art Blakey as well as arrangers Tadd Dameron and Gil Fuller. The Billy Eckstine Orchestra was the first bop big-band, and its leader reflected bop innovations by stretching his vocal harmonics into his normal ballads. Despite the group's modernist slant, Eckstine hit the charts often during the mid-'40s, with Top Ten entries including "A Cottage for Sale" and "Prisoner of Love."