Few musical artists possess the soul required to illuminate the entire history of a genre with their harmonies. Samara Joy, the 23-year-old jazz vocalist carrying nearly a century’s worth of …
Few musical artists possess the soul required to illuminate the entire history of a genre with their harmonies. Samara Joy, the 23-year-old jazz vocalist carrying nearly a century’s worth of history in her voice, may be the exception.
Joy, whose surname is McLendon, began her jazz career just a few short years ago at Purchase College, State University of New York. As a child growing up in the Bronx, Joy had always been surrounded by music.
Her paternal grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, founded the Philadelphia gospel group The Savettes. Her father, Antonio Charles McLendon, is a vocalist and bass player known for touring with gospel artist Andraé Crouch.
Joy studied the greats alongside her family, having to weave to navigate her grandfather’s view that music only belonged in church. She first sang in church herself but later joined the jazz band at Fordham High School for the Arts in the Bronx.
It was during high school Joy garnered her first accolade for her deep and melodious voice, winning the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington High School Band Festival. The competition was designed to elevate musicianship, broaden perspectives, and inspire performance.
In 2019, she won the renowned Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Jazz Competition.
At the tender age of 23, at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Samara Joy won Best Jazz Vocal Album for her debut LP “Linger Awhile,” and a second GRAMMY for Best New Artist.
Samara Joy has developed a fan base of all ages, including Hollywood stars like Regina King and music heavyweights like Anita Baker.
She has also amassed quite a following from Gen Z on TikTok. Joy currently has 607K followers and over 5 million likes.
Featured on Popsugar.com in February 2023, the website dished on the history and popularity of the vocalist, sharing a conversation she had with Essence Magazine about her favorite jazz standard. Joy shared that her favorite was “Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk.
The version that Joy sings, however, features alternative lyrics written by Jon Hendricks and only sung once publicly by Carmen McRae.
“Those lyrics haven’t been recorded that much – so even though it’s a song that a lot of people know, this is a different take on it,” Samara said.
Joy also considers herself a lifelong learner of the greats, including Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and, of course, Sarah Vaughan.
As the first Gen Z jazz star, Joy has a lot of history – and possibly the future of jazz – on her shoulders.
In podcasts from Fast Company and NPR, Joy shared that she expressed that was more than sure that she did not see her success or subsequent GRAMMY Awards coming.
In an interview with Elysa Gardner of The New York Times in December of 2022, Joy shared, “Sometimes I honestly don’t believe this is happening. I see pictures of this glammed-up girl, but I’m just me.”
Joy exudes the presence of an old soul, coupled with a voice that draws in jazz newcomers while simultaneously stirring the souls of those who grew up on standards.
Joy debuted at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2022. She spoke with Ken Abrams of What’s Up Newport about her first appearance, and how much it means in the world of jazz.
“…being here and seeing the stages and comparing it to behind the scenes and onstage footage that I’ve seen on YouTube…this is actually the place, this is real. It’s surreal and I’m grateful to be here,” she said.
Joy definitely appeared more comfortable in her skin on August 6, performing on the Quad stage at Fort Adams State Park.
Wearing a white dress and a bright smile, she appeared genuinely touched and excited to be on stage in Newport once again.
Joy sang If You Never Fall in Love With Me from her self-titled debut album, Stardust, a Bing Crosby cover and also one of her favorites, Chega de Saudade, Tight, Reincarnation of a Lovebird, Guess Who I Saw Today/Lately, Linger Awhile, and Sweet Pumpkin.
The magic of Joy is that a listener could close their eyes as she sang and see all the Jazz greats who came before her. Her music is both complete technically and transformative, reinvigorating the classics.
In the spirit of reinvigoration, Joy has on occasion rewritten lyrics to her favorites, including instrumental interludes, to suit her mood or experience, sometimes gleaning inspiration from the fiction she reads.
For anyone who is a neophyte to jazz or Samara Joy’s velvety take on the genre, Can’t Get Out of this Mood, is the perfect icebreaker. The song, recorded around 50 times since 1942, has been covered by Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, The Four Tops, and Mary Wells, among others.
Joy’s Someone to Watch Over Me is also a great choice, as it features Joy’s impressive range, vocal dexterity, and euphonious lilt.
Samara Joy’s album “Linger Awhile” is available online for streaming. Amazon Music features an Amazon Original Deluxe Edition which features Lush Life, an Amazon Original recording, previously popularized by Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, and Lady Gaga.