Tony Award and Daytime Emmy Award winner Lillias White explores the life, struggles and music of legendary singer Sarah Vaughan with a special concert at NJPAC
As part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, Tony Award and Daytime Emmy Award winner Lillias White will bring her talents to the New Jersey Performing Art Center (NJPAC) for "Divine Sass: Lillias White Sings Sarah Vaughan Live on Stage" on November 12 at 7:30pm.
WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle chats with Lillias about her special tribute to Sarah Vaughn, her amazing career that continues on with Chicago The Musical on Broadway and a new album, her love of jazz, and even a conversation about her loving pets.
White says she first discovered Sarah Vaughan amazing vocal artistry when she was a youngster.
"I first heard Sarah Vaughan listening on my grandmother's hi-fi stereo set. There were records. There were no cd's or anything like that then. I remember my aunts and uncles playing this music. I would hear it and I thought she was an opera singer at first because she had all these wonderful high notes that she would produce. I fell in love with her then. I fell in love with her and Dina Washington. That was the first time I heard her. I never got to see her live in person, but I remember seeing her on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember seeing her on a show called Soul on Channel 13. Those are my first fond memories of Divine, Sassy.
Did her family talk about why Vaughan was one of the few artists of color on television?
We never talked about it but we were always enthused by the fact that we could actually see her on TV and hear this magnificent music play that was not available all the time in our neighborhood. Of course, I was a kid so I couldn't go to clubs or anything like that. We didn't talk about it. My family just kind of saw that I loved it and so they just kind of let me go. They encouraged me to listen. They encouraged me to sing. I always loved the sound of her voice and the way that she looked. She used to make her own clothes, some of her own performance garments she made herself. And they were flowy and sparkly and I always liked looking at that."
White is excited about her upcoming tribute performance at NJPAC admits there is some pressure performing Sarah Vaughan's music in Sassy's home city of Newark.
"There's lot of pressure because I don't sing like her. I don't have a five-octave range. I will do my best to give you everything I got so you know the love that I have for her comes out. To give you little tidbits about her life and give you little sounds she would make."
You can find out more information about the concert at www.njpac.org.
Lillias White will soon be one of the stars of a new off-Broadway show, but she's currently starring as Matron "Mama" Morin in Chicago on Broadway. The extraordinary actress says there's nothing like performing in front of a live audience.
"It's going great. Chicago is celebrating 25 years of being on Broadway. I did do the show about 15 years ago as Mama Morton. This time feels different. We were able to have the original director Walter Bobbie come in and redirect the show, pull it together to make the cues tighter, to make some improvements to the music. It's a wonderful cast of young people dancing. The orchestra is just wonderful."
White, world-renowned for her glorious voice and ability to communicate the heart of a song, won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in The Life on Broadway. Her Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series highlighted her time on Sesame Street.
You can see and hear much more about Lillias White, including the story about her two pets in the full video interview here.