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Jazz singer Samara Joy embraces the past while making music for the future

All of a sudden,Samara Joy was everywhere. Everyone was talking about this girl with the voice like velvet, like silk, like chocolate, like cream — this overnight sensation, this legend in the making. So I looked her up. And sure enough, the voice is incredible. It's a sound from the past, echoing the great ladies of jazz:Sarah Vaughan,Ella Fitzgerald,Billie Holiday. Here's a 23-year-old singing standards like "Misty" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" with all the nuance and depth of a seasoned diva.

Samara is poised and elegant onstage at Newport, Umbria Jazz and the Apollo Theater in polished performances captured on TikTok, where you can scroll the timeline of her rise to fame along with the rest of her 200,000 followers. Her feed is also full of goofy posts from hotel bathrooms, her dad's kitchen, the security line at the airport — an unfiltered documentation of a crazy journey and an invitation to take the trip with her. A post from last November shows her getting off a train at Penn Station, absolutely freaking out as she gets the news that she's been nominated for not one but two Grammy awards: best vocal jazz album and best new artist.

It was just four years ago that Samara won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. She was still in school, a junior at SUNY Purchase. Since then, she's made a whirlwind entrance into a musical tradition saturated with American history. She joined the legendaryrecord label that was home to Sarah and Ella and Lady Day. She performs on stages that have hosted generations of jazz icons. And she's bringing century-old songs to her Gen Z followers, who are joyfully discovering this music for the first time. It's both beautiful and inspiring to see this young artist so seamlessly connect the respect she has for the past with her vision for the future.

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This weekend, Samara will perform at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, and we'll all learn the outcome of those two nominations, which are surely only the first of many as this bright star continues to rise.

Copyright 2023 Classical California

Lara Downes
Lara Downes is among the foremost American pianists of her generation, a trailblazer both on and off the stage, whose musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory. As a chart-topping recording artist, a powerfully charismatic performer, a curator and tastemaker, Downes is recognized as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.