Samara Joy

Samara Joy, quoted in a New York Times article said, “Sarah Vaughan could sing anything; she could go incredibly deep and then she could sing operatically, and neither seemed like a struggle. I look at her, and at some opera singers, and I want that ease.” A single listen to this 23-year-old vocal phenomenon and you know how seriously Samara Joy pursues that goal. The astounding jazz vocalist and two-time Grammy Award winner will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023 at the 12th John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival.

A Voice from the Ages for the Ages

Samara Joy, won the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Linger Awhile, her Verve Records debut release. She also won the Grammy for Best New Artist, a recognition that carries even more prestige. Her voice, rich and velvety yet precociously refined, has already earned her fans like Anita Baker and Regina King, numerous TV appearances, and millions of likes on TikTok.  Growing up in the Bronx, it was music of the past — the music of her parent’s childhoods, as she put it — that she listened to most. Samara Joy treasures her musical lineage, which stretches back to her grandparents Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, both of whom performed with Philadelphia gospel group the Savettes, and runs through her father, who is a singer, songwriter and producer who toured with gospel artist Andraé Crouch.

Eventually, Samara Joy McLendon did follow in the family tradition, singing in church and then with the jazz band at Fordham High School for the Arts, with whom she won Best Vocalist at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s (JALC) Essentially Ellington competition. That led to her enrolling in State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase’s jazz studies program, where she fell deeply in love with the music. Next, she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2019.

To Be Real

Her very first album was the self-titled, Samara Joy, released in 2021. It featured a trio led by the Italian guitar virtuoso Pasquale Grasso, veteran drummer Kenny Washington — both teachers with whom Joy studied at SUNY, and bassist Ari Roland. After the Grammy wins, Linger Awhile reached number one on three different Billboard Charts: Top Jazz Albums, Traditional Jazz Albums and Heatseekers Albums. Backed again by Grasso and Washington but with the addition of bassist David Wong and pianist Ben Paterson. The album is a collection of jazz standards re-energized by the distinctive treatment Samara Joy gives them.  There are burnished, gleaming versions in “Misty,” “Linger Awhile” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” transporting listeners to some romantic, long-lost supper club. Those familiar tunes are listed alongside some more unusual, if equally vintage selections: “Sweet Pumpkin,” a Ronnell Bright tune performed by the likes of Blue Mitchell and Gloria Lynne, and “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” which Samara uncovered on a collection of rare recordings by Sarah Vaughan.

Samara Joy

Samara Joy did not have a natural affinity for social media, yet through her song videos, she became a star on TikTok and Instagram. She amassed more than 200,000 followers, exposing huge numbers of new listeners to the beauty of traditional jazz. Though she’s young, she relishes the process of digging through the music’s history and learning new standards. “I think maybe people connect with the fact that I’m not faking it, that I already feel embedded in it,” Samara says. “Maybe I’m able to reach people in person and on social media because it’s real.”

Grammy winner Samara Joy will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023 at the 12th John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival
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