Sarah Vaughn,  Remembered

 (The Story Behind SASSY)

by Patti Sterling

 

     There are few sights more beautiful than Lake Tahoe in a snowfall. It was my second time back to THE LAKE performing at Harrah's Stateline and this time I could afford a suite of rooms near the "Y". I was excited. I'd been working professionally steadily for two years. My career was looking good, I was looking good, and Lake Tahoe at Christmas looked good.

     The proprietors of the Frontier knew me from my last visit and knew I was a new "chick" singer learning her craft, searching for her style, and making all the discoveries, all the mistakes. They were anxious to help any way they could. They'd heard my little band, read my press and 'adopted' me.

   One morning, I rushed out the door past the front desk.  "Patti, we've got a surprise for you."

  "Great, can I catch you when I get back? I'm late for rehearsal!"     

     "No, I think we need to tell you about this now!" They looked like a couple of giggling teenagers. The woman's voice lowered to a stage whisper.

     "Guess who's in town?"

     I wasn't playing the game.

     "Who?"

     "Sarah Vaughn!"

     "Oh, my God," I wasn't breathing.

     "Where is she playing?" I was whispering now. They grinned.

     "She's playing Caesar's but she's staying here." Then came the bomb.

     "Would you like to meet her?"

     "Are you kidding?" I resumed breathing.

     "We know her and her husband, Preacher. We'll fix it up for you."

      My rehearsal was  a blur. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't want to jinx it.

     It was about four when I got back to the Frontier. I was almost frightened to walk by the desk. Maybe it was just a dream.
The couple appeared, very cool, now.  "She said she'd love to meet you, but it's got to be at six, she's only in town for three days, and its the only chance she'll have."

     "Whatever you say."

     "Great. Just be at 205 at 6:00, they'll be expecting you."

     I must have looked dazed. My friends smiled and said, "Enjoy yourself . They're nice people."

     "Thanks,I can't tell you what this means to me ..." But, I knew they knew.


      At six I walked up the stairs to Suite 205. It was cold. The sun was setting, the snow beginning to fall. And I was in a heightened state of awareness and fear.

     Who WAS  Sarah Vaughn?  Was she anything like Buddy Rich?  I'd met him and -well, I was still recovering. A Legend has to start as a person-right?

     I knocked on 205. The door opened, framing a giant white-toothed smile!  "I'm Preacher!" He wasn't a tall man, but his presence filled the door jam.

     "Hey, baby! Here's the young lady the Brown's told us about."
A languid voice answered from inside the living room .

     "Oh, hi honey. I was hoping you'd come by."

     Was  she? Really?

     "Come in," said Preacher.

     Gratefully, I entered. It was Tahoe cold,and much warmer inside.  I looked at the figure of The Legend leaning back in a chair,looking into a train case mirror with a wig perched precariously on her head . She wore no make-up, just a comfortable housecoat, the quilted kind, some old slippers and
sipped on something in a teacup. She smiled like the Madonna. Not flashy, but warm and honestly.

     "I hear you`re a singer." That's all I needed. I told her how cool it was to be learning I didn't need to sing right on the beat.I told her how the boys in my band were  turning me on to the art of back-phrasing and were being very patient with me even when I screwed-up the time. I told her how much plain ole' fun it was just experimenting with sound -even if I forgot a lyric-

     Then SHE talked.

     "OH yeah, honey. You don't need all the lyrics. Make 'em up! Add a few - Throw a few away! You don't need to sing anything the same way twice! Make it up!"

     Suddenly she asked,"When are you through tonight? Can you make my last show?"

     "What time?"

     "Ten." This came from Preacher who up to this point had quietly been unpacking.

     "Well, I won't be off work, but I will be on break."

     "How many shows you do, honey?"

     "Five."

     "Every night?"

     "Six Nights a week."

     "Mercy. It has been a while." She said it breathily almost like "whew!"

     I saw The Legend work that night . She worked with a trio of jazzers half her age. They watched her like Hawks,taking it all in, breathing the rarified air of Lake Tahoe and Ms. Vaughn. She was a treat -making it all up - even the parts you'd heard before. Every thought , every nuance, every curve and embellishment was freshly minted from the Mind of Sarah Vaughn. Her make-up was perfect, and she looked elegant, body moving to the passion of her music. It was the most amazing night so relaxed and filled with the joy of people who do what God means
for them to do.

     I was accompanied by my boyfriend, the tall, good looking guitar player in my band. He was properly respectful, and both he and I almost fell off the Horseshoe Bar the next evening when Sarah and Preacher stopped by our set in between shows. We managed to stay at least somewhat composed, pulling out our best stuff- a few Jobim tunes, as I remember.

     Sarah was playing Reno the following week. She invited us to the show. You can believe I was there -ringside.

     Only now, twenty years down the road, do I feel comfortable even saying  "Thank-you" to this Goddess of Music. To Sarah - thank you for caring enough to encourage a young aspirant. I hope you would find something to admire in my work

Love, Patti Sterling

2002 Patti Sterling, published with permission

 

 

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