Nina Simone With a background in gospel and pop and a fondness for classical music, especially J.S. Bach, Nina Simone injected some of those influences into her jazz singing and piano playing. While Simone's instantly recognizable deep, resonant voice was part of her appeal, her competent piano skills were equally compelling on her early recordings like 1957's Little Girl Blue, which featured an excellent rendition of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," and Live at the Village Gate, released five years later, that included the great "Just in Time."
Billie Holiday Billie Holiday's distinctive and lilting phrasing is still highly influential on vocalists today, but she also brought a deeply personal resonance to whatever she sang. Throughout the '30s, she worked with Teddy Wilson, Artie Shaw and Count Basie, and near the end of that decade, she recorded the profound "Strange Fruit," which was based on a poem about a lynching. Lady Sings the Blues, released in 1956, was a watershed album for Holiday, and the powerful Lady in Satin, both sad and beautiful, was released weeks after her death in 1959 at the age of 44.
Sarah Vaughan In the fall of 1942, an eighteen-year-old Sarah Vaughan entered the Apollo Theater Amateur Night contest and ended up winning $10 and a weeklong engagement at the legendary venue. The following spring, Vaughan opened for Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo, and then spent the next two years touring with Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine. With amazing control of her voice and intonation, as well as a remarkable range, Vaughan released some stellar albums in the '50s, including her great self-titled disc with Clifford Brown and the 1957 live Verve album, At Mr. Kelly's.