Night Lights Classic Jazz

Sassy’s Happy Sobs: Sarah Vaughan at the White House

Sarah VaughanAn article in the Sunday, November 9 New York Times about the history of African-American visitors to the White House came with a jazz twist at the end involving Sarah Vaughan. Vaughan performed at the White House in 1964 as part of a state dinner hosted by president Lyndon B. Johnson for the prime minister of Japan. In Leslie Gourse’s Vaughan biography pianist Bob James described the singer’s nervousness before her appearance in the East Room, an area with an intimacy that James compared to “working in a living room.” The article concludes:

Bess Abell, who was Johnson’s White House social secretary, vividly remembers a state dinner at which Sarah Vaughan sang but, after dinner, disappeared.

“I found her in this office, which had been turned over to her as a dressing room, and she was sobbing,” Mrs. Abell said in an interview. “And I said, ‘Mrs. Vaughan, what’s wrong? What can I do?’ And she said, ‘There’s nothing wrong. This is the most wonderful day of my life. When I first came to Washington, I couldn’t get a hotel room, and tonight, I danced with the president.’ ”

Times a-changin’, then and now.

(Photo of Sarah Vaughan by Chuck Stewart)

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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