avatar for Andrew Flory

Andrew Flory

Andrew Flory is Associate Professor of Music at Carleton College. He has written extensively about American rhythm and blues and is author of the book I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B (Michigan, 2017). Working directly with Universal Records, Andrew has served as consultant for several recent Motown reissues, including an expanded edition of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man. He is also co-author of the history of rock textbook What’s that Sound (W.W. Norton).

"Sarah Vaughan and the Sonic Middlebrow" 
This paper discusses the role of sound, class and genre in the early 1950s records of Sarah Vaughan. In the summer of 1951 the Massachusetts firm Radiocom began to publish a new American magazine called High Fidelity, which focused on the reproduction of sound and a growing interest in audio through the lens of architecture and the home. At virtually the same time, the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Corporation launched a much different magazine, called Tan Confessions, which was targeted to young black women. Written and edited by men, and through different lenses of gender and race, Tan Confessions (and its later incarnation as Tan) was also about the home, peddling the anxieties and interests of an emerging female black middle-class perspective in the United States and using artist profiles, biographical writings, record reviews, and gossip columns to place music and musicians as a central subject. Reared as a swing and bebop jazz vocalist, Sarah Vaughan encountered the worlds of both audiophiles and confessional readers in multiple ways during the time. After initially emerging on a national stage as an interpretive singer in mostly jazz-oriented settings, she signed to Columbia Records in early 1949. Many of Vaughan’s unsuccessful Columbia sides were recorded with pioneering producer Mitch Miller, whose interest in sonic architecture and novelty was infamous. Vaughan mitigated this distance in her next record deal, an arrangement with Mercury that allowed for simultaneous releases on two different labels, one catering to fidelity and novelty-oriented pop audiences and the other to jazz aficionados. The early products of her Mercury years, the single “Make Yourself Comfortable” and the EP Images offer a fascinating perspective on the varying interests in sound and music at the time as represented by the readers of both High Fidelity and Tan.