Samara Joy’s voice (and social media) is helping jazz find new ears

Instead, Joy listened to her parents’ favorite old-school R&B, “Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin and Stevie and Chaka,” she said, and she sang in middle and high school musicals and made her theater debut as Erzulie (Goddess of God). love) in the sixth-grade production of “Once on This Island” “I was nervous about the acting part because I’m very shy — and I still am sometimes,” she said. “But I wanted to sing, so I was like, ‘We’re going to learn these lines and try our best to get inside this character.’

Eventually, Joy began singing in church, where her father also often sang. (Antonio McClendon is a singer, songwriter and bassist who has toured with gospel star Andraé Crouch.) “I started in choir at 16, and then I started singing lead, which was nerve-racking,” he said. “The church was broadcasting services live and all these eyes were on me.” But she “became more serious about it because I was there all the time. We had rehearsals, we had Bible study, we had services on Saturdays and Sundays. That was my priority — whereas jazz band was an after-school thing, a couple of songs here and there.”

When Joy won the Sarah Vaughan contest, “my grandfather was disappointed, I think” — Ruth McClendon died in 2014 — “because he thought singing belonged to the church, it was to worship God,” she explained. “Because of his beliefs, which I respect and understand, I don’t think he’ll ever come to the jazz club. I know he still loves me, no matter how he feels about the career decisions I’m making.

Joy’s ambitions include writing; He wrote rhapsodic lyrics “Nostalgia (The Day I Knew)” A sweet breezy number on “Late a Little Time”. “Now I pay more attention to the melodies and harmonics of all these songs I sing,” he said. “I’m telling this composer’s story and this songwriter’s story, which is beautiful, but hopefully I can make an impact enough to write my own content.”

Studying giants like Vaughan and Fitzgerald – Carmen McRae and Betty Carter were also favorites – Joy was excited to explore different styles: “Sarah Vaughan can sing anything; she can go incredibly deep, and then she can sing operatically, and it doesn’t seem like a struggle. I Watching her and some opera singers, I want that simplicity.

There is, of course, a certain sense of piety when Joy talks about jazz in particular. “I see all the influences — Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan — I think these people were here,” she said, a measure of awe creeping into her quiet voice. “It’s young music, and they’ve done a lot in their careers to attract people to this kind of music; it deserves to be talked about and shared. As long as I’m passionate about it, that’s my goal – to share it.

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