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Susie Butler portrays wonderful songstress Sarah Vaughan at Exit Theatre
By Bruce Bellingham

Until the end of my days, I will always remember Sarah Vaughan. She’s easy to remember – and so hard to forget.
Yes, she was the famous singer in the fifties on the hit parade, championed by Billy Eckstine and hired by Earl “Fatha” Hines to sing with his band. Heady stuff for a young lady in the forties. Not surprisingly, Vaughan became a pop star. She also lived in my hometown of Englewood, New Jersey. Englewood Cliffs, actually. That’s where the rich people live. You know, the folks who live on the hill.

My grandfather was a police sergeant in Englewood. He used to tell my mother about the fights Sarah Vaughan would have up the hill with her boyfriend. My grandfather had to bust them up. He never mentioned if she ever sang. I’ll bet she raised her voice.

Small wonder. She must have fought for everything she attained in life. That’s why she is unforgettable. I never really appreciated her until I got an album in the seventies as a birthday present.

They did not call her “Sassy” for nothing.

Sarah Vaughan is similar to Billie Holiday. You could never mistake either voice for another. She sang exquisitely. Something silky and something courageous at the same time. It was clear that she would undertake any artistic challenge. Life gave her a lot of disappointments. 

Her big hit was “Broken Hearted Melody” in 1959. Typical for Sarah’s angst. Some people snickered at the tune for being too schmaltzy. Nonsense. I dare anyone to do better. Sarah could turn a disappointment into a sweet moment, a poetic excursion. Don’t mess with anyone who could sing with Billy Eckstine. Talk about top-flight talent.

This takes us to Susie Butler’s show, the talented lassie who is dedicating her show as a tribute to sassy Sarah Vaughan at the Exit Theatre.

Butler has a life-long dedication to what she calls the “rare, melodic, smooth legacy of Sarah Vaughan.”

We are better for it.

Butler is sold on Sarah. “Sarah is so much part of my life,” she says.

Butler is classically trained as a singer at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. She is also funny. That’s what makes her more compelling as a performer. It’s the timing, the musicianship. I think it’s also the appreciation for the lyrics. Sarah Vaughan milked the words in the best way. She poured over her songs with maple syrup. Susie Butler makes us wish we could have breakfast all over again.

Susie Butler sings Sarah Vaughan: Exit Theatre Cafe, 156 Eddy Street (at Taylor), through Nov. 20, tickets $15–$20 at 800-838-3006,

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