• Simon Rushby

Send In The Clowns by Stephen Sondheim, sung by Sarah Vaughan

#listeneveryday 12 Feb 2021

I wanted to include a performance by Sarah Vaughan and fully expected it to be a standard by Gershwin, Porter or someone similar. Then I stumbled across this performance of Send In The Clowns, from Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical A Little Night Music.


It's one of Sondheim's best-known songs, thanks to famous performances from people like Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins and Barbra Streisand, but this TV performance by Sarah Vaughan in 1981 brings a very different and incredibly touching, poignant interpretation that might take you by surprise.


Sarah Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1924. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a laundry worker. She sang in church as a child and through her teens would sneak into clubs to watch and - pretty soon - perform with the musicians there. She dropped out of school to concentrate on a music career, and sang with Earl Hines's band during the 1940s, earning the nickname 'Sassy'.

She enjoyed a stellar career, performing with countless jazz greats. She refused to call herself a jazz singer, however, and also appeared with stars from the worlds of opera and pop. In this performance, you can hear qualities in her voice that transcend any one musical style - she has an almost operatic tone and a range that any pop diva would be proud of, but tempers it with unbelievable control and colour - the a cappella section near the end of the song is particularly spellbinding.


Sarah Vaughan died in 1990, from lung cancer, at the age of 66.


More to listen to

A performance from 1958 of Tenderly shows off Vaughan's range of colour and tone. She had a hit with it in 1947.






I can't write about Send In The Clowns without including this memorable performance by Judi Dench at the 2010 BBC Proms. It's very different to Vaughan's, but no less powerful.


A new #listeneveryday post is published every weekday! Comment below or tweet @SimonRushby with your suggestions for future music.

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