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The First Ladies Of Jazz

Updated on August 29, 2014

First Ladies Of Jazz

Listed below are but a few of the female jazz greats of a bygone era, the likes of which we will never see again. A few notables not chronicled here are, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, and Lena Horne. These honey dipped voices can be heard on YouTube, so go over and take a listen.

In the meantime sit back and relax as you listen to a sampling of these six great ladies of jazz.

Sarah Vaughn

Sarah Vaughn

Sarah Vaughn, born Sarah Lois Vaughn, on March 24, 1924, in Newark, New Jersey. Ms. Vaughn was the only child of Asbury, and Ada Vaughn. She began her career after a win at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater's Amateur Night. Vaughn sang with some of the greats, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Billy Eckstine, and more, before she began her solo career, which was very successful. During her illustrious career Ms. Vaughn won several awards, including, Grammys, the NEA Jazz Master Award.

Ms. Vaughn had several nicknames, of which "The Divine One" was the most popular, she was also known as "Sassy." She had only one child which she adopted in 1961, with her then husband Clyde Atkins. Ms. Vaughn had a long successful career which you can learn more about, by reading her bio on Wikipedia under Sarah Vaughn.

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington was born Ruth Lee Jones, on August 29, 1924, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Ms. Washington was dubbed, Queen of The Blues, her genres were, Blues, R&B, and vocal Jazz. She won a talent contest at 15, and thereafter began singing in Night Clubs, going on to critical acclaim, with such notables as Lionel Hampton, Cannonball Adderley, and many more. "Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular, and successful singers of the period."

While listening to the track I chose for this article, I couldn't help but be fascinated all over again by what I heard. To get the full impact of this silk and honey voice you must go over to YouTube, and listen to more of her songs. I grew up listening to this music without any real appreciation, how I wished I'd had a chance to hear her live. For more info on this beautiful talent go over to Wikipedia under Dinah Washington.

Billy Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born Eleanor Fagan, on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Her musical genres were, vocal jazz, jazz blues, torch songs, and swing. Ms. Holiday is said to have "changed the art of American pop vocals forever."

Several of Ms. Holiday's songs have become Jazz standards, songs such as "God Bless the Child, Lady Sings the Blues, Good Morning Heartache, Strange Fruit, Fine and Mellow." She was said to have co-written a few of these.

During her short 44 years Billie Holiday lived a rich, and full life. Unfortunately, her life was cut short by that "rich and full" life, and continued drug use, however, none of this in no way diminishes her talent, or her influence on the music of her day, and still has a powerful influence on music today.

Ms. Holiday's life is a very interesting read, and with this limited article I can't do her justice, so go over and read more at Wikipedia under Billie Holiday.

Etta James

Etta James

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Her music genres are, jazz, blues, R&B, rock and roll, soul, and gospel. For her immeasurable talent James has won numerous awards, not the least of which are four Grammys, and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Etta James is best known for the very popular song "At Last," which has been featured in television shows, ad campaigns, and movies. The song was also performed by Beyonce at the inauguration of America's first black president, Barack Obama. Ms. James was named number twenty-two on the Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and number sixty-two on their list of 100 Greatest Artist.

Ms. James has a very interesting life story, and I'm unable to do her justice with limited time and space, so, I encourage you to go over to read more of her story at, Etta James on Wikipedia.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina. Ms. Simone was a singer, songwriter, arranger, pianist, and civil rights activist. Her genres were jazz, classical folk, R&B, soul, gospel and pop. In 1958 her rendition of "I Loves You Porgy," became a smash hit in the United States, this, in effect, began her rise to fame.

Eunice, who was the sixth child of eight born into a poor family in North Carolina, began playing piano at a very early age. Her desire to become the first black concert pianist was never realized, however the piano was part of her signature performances throughout her life. An incident during a performance at a local church sparked her later interest in the Civil Rights Movement. It took place at a recital when she was twelve, her parents were sitting in the front row, but during her performance they were forced to move to the back, to make room for "white people." She became actively involved in the movement during the mid 60's, and as a result a civil rights message was standard in her recording repertoire, her live performances also included these messages.

Simone left the United States in 1970, first for Barbados, then on to Liberia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and finally settling in France to live out her life, which ended in 2003 at age 70. To read more about this very interesting Lady, take a look at information concerning her life on Wikipedia, under Nina Simone.

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson was born on February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, Ohio. Wilson began her career at the tender age of 15, after winning a talent contest sponsored by a local television station. Her prize was an appearance on the bi-weekly television show, Skyline Melodies. She eventually became the host of the show. With the success of "Guess Who I Saw Today.", Ms. Wilson achieved commercial success, and went on to have five albums released between 1960 and 1962. With her star on the rise, she was encouraged to not pursue her original pop style, and to steer her musical talent toward jazz and ballads. Following that advice she was able to achieve success with hits such as, "(You Don't Know), How Glad I Am, Tell Me The Truth, Face It Girl, It's Over," and many others. Wilson has received numerous awards, not the least of which were three Grammys.

Singing has not been Ms. Wilson's only talent, she's also appeared in a number of television shows such as,The Cosby Show, The Carol Burnett Show, New York Undercover, I Spy, Hawaii Five-O, and too many more to list due to time, and space. To read more on Nancy Wilson go to her website.


I hope you've enjoyed this little venture into the world of some very talented performers. When listening to the recordings provided take a few minutes and go over to YouTube, and listen to more of each of these individuals, you won't regret it.


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    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      4 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks, teaches12345, you're too kind. Hope to see you again soon.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      Etta James and Billie Holiday are two women who made jazz memorable. Great coverage on this topic.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      4 years ago from Southern California

      Hey cmoneyspinner1tf, thanks for stopping and taking a listen. I know you enjoyed them as I did. Please come back.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 

      4 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Much like you the reason I know many of these fabulous ladies is because my mother had their albums in the house when I was growing up. What is really impressive is that some of these sisters influenced Cristina Aguilera and it clearly shows in her style. Proves that they are timeless.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      5 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks alifeofdesign, I feel that way about Billie Holiday. Thanks you so much for stopping.

    • alifeofdesign profile image

      Graham Gifford 

      5 years ago from New Hamphire

      Wonderful list of amazing women! Nina is dynamic and I have been a fan for many years. Hearing her voice can calm me immediately or bring me to tears instantly-depends upon the song.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Was it for profession or personal pleasure? Anyway thanks for stopping, please come back.

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      My dad used to sing jazz. His favorite was Ella Fitzgerald.

      Jenna Pope

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      WOW, leithflood, I wish I'd been there. Thanks for mentioning June Christy, there were quite a few I didn't mention, I might just go back and do a second one. Thanks for stopping, please stop again.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      fastfreta, you are correct. Caught most of them at the Broadway Capital in Detroit some years ago.Detroit was the place to be back then during the big band era.I thought June Christy who was with Stan Kenton's big band deserved a mention.Thank you so much.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks James, I tried to give enough insight to make it interesting, and from your comment I succeeded. Thanks again, glad to see you and to be seen again. (Chuckle!)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      You have selected the crem de la crem! Incredible talents all. I enjoyed the little stories about these fine ladies. Thank you for providing the links to their videos. Well done!

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you so much Tamlynken, you're sweet, see you later.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      fastfreda you are a Jazzy Lady yourself. Godspeed.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you roshall. Ironically, in going through and eliminating household goods, I actually found albums of Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington, and more among my possessions. I'm so excited, as I'm attempting to earn money for my adventure, I'm going to put these on Ebay. Anyway, I thank you so much for your lovely comment. See you later. Oh by the way I don't have daily access to the internet, so please be patient if it takes a while to get around to reading and responding to comments.

    • roshall profile image


      7 years ago from Ohio

      you did a woderful job.Billy Holiday is my favorite and i loved the movie,i showed the movie to my grand kids so that they could understand racial problems and drug addiction great tool for me. thaks think all go listen to her now.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you all for weighing in on this hub.

      Nextstopjupiter, thanks for the compliment, and I'm sorry I haven't heard of her, but I'm going to look her up.

      Hello, hello, I'm the same way, I'm familiar with these ladies, but until I did research I too didn't know much about them. That's one reason I'm enjoying these articles, I'm getting such an education.

      You're so welcome suziecat7, stay tuned, because I'll be rolling out more soon, as soon as I get settled.

      Once again thank you all for visiting, please come back soon.

    • suziecat7 profile image


      7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I love all these ladies - thanks for a great Hub.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your wonderful, I love jazz and most of these singers I knew but not much about their lives.

    • nextstopjupiter profile image


      7 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      Very good choice, and some great music, thanks. I would like to add my favorite singer, Jeanne Lee.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you creativeone59 for stopping, hope to see you soon.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you freta, For a very informative and awesome hub on the First Ladies of the Jazz Era. Thank you for sharing. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Dahoglund, I feel the same way, I guess we're two old souls. Hey, thank you so much stopping, please come back.

      Thank you Lady_E, I agree, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you dear for stopping, I'll see you soon.

      Tamlynken, I see you're new to HubPages, I'm glad you chose to stop by my hubs. I'm looking forward to reading your hubs. Again thank you for stopping, please come back.

    • tamlynken profile image


      7 years ago from Georgia

      I really enjoyed this. Great article. I will read more on these ladies, thanks to you.

    • Lady_E profile image


      7 years ago from London, UK

      First ladies indeed - Very talented.

      I enjoyed this. Thanks

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Brings a nostalgic moment from when I used to hears some of these on the radio before rock took over.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Jan, I'm glad you've discovered it, and don't you agree it's really soothing music. Thank you so much for your kindness. I'll be seeing you soon.

    • Jisblessed profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub! I was never a huge fan of Jazz but over the years I've grown to appreciate it more. Today I'll take Jazz over most of the Hip Hop. Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson, I like the most. Thanks

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Well hello there DynamicS, thank you for stopping, and leaving this very nice comment. I'm wishing I'd done one on Ella, now. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed this hub.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Wow fasfreta, I'm in Jazz heaven. I love Jazz music so I'm digging these classics. Ella Fitzgerald is my favourite - perhaps because she looks like my grandma.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Love, love LOVE this hub.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Chatkath, I need to go over and read your hub on Billie. Thank you for stopping, I'll see you soon.

    • Chatkath profile image


      7 years ago from California

      FastFreda, you made my night with these true jazzy Divas, in fact I did an entire Hub on Billie Holiday shortly after I started hubbing :) She is one of my favorites and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of these early jazz artists! Once I start, it is hard to turn it off! Thank you for a welcome bit of nostalgia Freda!

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Nellieanna, you're right I didn't give detailed info on Ella, however I did give her an honorable mention.

      You're so right shyonegb, I don't actually know any singers of today that measures up to these ladies. However there are a few that I like.

      Thank you both for stopping and taking time to leave those really nice comments.

    • shyonegb profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      They were real women with style, grace and class, unlike today's artists.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Reads like a list of many of my favorite singers - but one of mine is missing: Ella Fitzgerald.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you k_phuma, glad you love them.

      Thanks Bk, I didn't realize these things would be important, (birth dates and places of birth), now I'm glad I added those too. And thank you so much for your very nice comment.

      Hello Penlady, I'm glad you enjoyed this glimpse into these wonderful ladies lives. Thanks for the comment.

      Thank you all very much for stopping and taking the time to leave these wonderful comments.

    • penlady profile image


      7 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      This was a wonderful article! I enjoyed this history lesson on such talented, beautiful women. With today's music being of far lesser value, it makes you appreciate music as soulful and beautiful as jazz.

      Thanks for this article, fastfreta.

    • BkCreative profile image


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Ah yes, - these are the super women - I'm glad you included the birth dates and locations. NYC was not known for producing this kind of music - how interesting that location seems to matter. NYC had lots of doo wop.

      Thanks for all the photos and putting so much into this. Bravo! - and rated up of course!

    • k_phuma profile image


      7 years ago from Botswana, Francistown

      I love them thats my dearie of all times. best list...

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Pam, it seems that "At Last" is the odds on favorite. Thank you so much for stopping and taking time to leave a nice comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Fantastic list! I love all these ladies and "At Last" is probably one of my favorite all time songs. You sure picked the winners.

    • fastfreta profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfreta Sailor 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Tom, Manthy, camlo, Ashantina, zanin, alekhouse, Fay, for stopping, I'm glad you all enjoyed this installment of my favorite music.

      Tom I should have known you've seen at least one of them, I wish I'd been in your shoes.

      Yes manthy, I love Etta too.

      Camlo, I had Carmen on here, but at the last minute I exchanged her for Nancy Wilson.

      Zanin, you're right it was sad for Nina.

      No, Ashantina, don't dust off the vinyl, just tune in to YouTube, there you can find any one of these entertainers and more.

      Alekhouse, you too, oh yes, I knew those words verbatim, and can still remember some of them today.

      You know Fay I never thought of that, but in hindsight I guess she can make you feel that way, drunk I mean.

      Again thank you all very much for stopping, I actually have another ready for release, look out for it.

    • justom profile image


      7 years ago from 41042

      Great hub Freta, these are all fine and while I love jazz I'd always rather listen to just the music. I did get to see Ella years ago at the local Jazz Fest. Hope everything else is going well for you! Peace!! Tom

    • manthy profile image


      7 years ago from Alabama,USA

      Thanks for the Hub - I guess my favorite would be AT Last by Etta James ;0)

    • camlo profile image

      Camlo De Ville 

      7 years ago from Cologne, Germany

      Hi Fastfreta!

      You've included some of my favourite artists here: Billie Holiday, Etta James and Dinah Washington. And thank you for introducing me to Nancy Wilson - I'll be looking out for more of her.

      You might have seen my renditions of 'You've Changed' and 'I'd Rather Go Blind', well I want to do 'What a Diff'rence a Day Made', too. It's just totally impossible to be nearly as good as any of these singers, but I'll keep trying. :-)

      Shame you didn't include Carmen McRae. Do you know her 'The Right to Love'? One of the most amazing songs I've ever heard.

      I think you and I could probably talk for hours about this music. I'll stop here before I write a comment longer than your Hub. :-)

      Really enjoyed it!

      All the best, Camlo

    • Ashantina profile image


      7 years ago

      Its been awhile... I need to dust off the vinyl, kick back and chill :) Cheers Freta!!

    • zanin profile image


      7 years ago from London, England

      Nina Simone, love her- my name sake -I'm also Nina. Very sad how she ended, not being able to return to America due to a warrant out for her arrest, due to taxes her husband never paid; husband not contacting her when she was overseas and so she was left in the dark about her situation in America; Dying overseas in France, not able to go home. Men!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      These are some of my favorite singers. I used to know every single song by heart that Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald recorded. Thanks for trip down memory lane.

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 

      7 years ago

      This is a concert in waiting. Freda, I just thought I might as well make my comment first so I can go back and listen to these videos one by one. Never been a Lady Day fan (she makes me feel drunk, lol), but the rest...thank you, thank you, thank you!

      voted up, awesome and beautiful


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