With a voice as smooth as velvet, Samara Joy’s star seems to rise with each performance. The winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition resides in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, New York, the place of her birth. Growing up, music was a pervasive presence due to the inspiration of her paternal grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, who led the well-known Philadelphia-based gospel group, The Savettes. Her father toured with the renowned Gospel artist Andrae Crouch, and her home was filled with the sounds of not only her father’s songs and songwriting process, but the inspiration of many Gospel and R&B artists, including Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke, Musiq Soulchild, Kim Burrell, Commissioned, and many others.
“Although I didn’t grow up singing in church,” explains Samara, “I constantly heard my family singing inspirational music together, which instilled an appreciation for my musical lineage. My earliest memory of performing is singing a Jordin Sparks song for my fifth-grade graduation. Then, through musicals in middle school, I loved exploring the range of my voice and applying the different colors to fit the characters I played. Finally, during high school, I joined the choir at my church, eventually becoming a worship leader, singing three services a week for nearly two years.”
Samara’s first exposure to jazz was while attending Fordham High School for the Arts. She performed regularly with the jazz band, eventually winning Best Vocalist at JALC’s Essentially Ellington competition. However, jazz wasn’t her focus until the time came to choose a college. Wanting to attend a state school close to home, she picked SUNY Purchase. She gained acceptance into their acclaimed jazz program and its faculty full of jazz masters, including Pasquale Grasso and drummer Kenny Washington, who appear on her debut recording.
“My friends were all into jazz and started sharing their favorite recordings with me to check out. The turning point was when I heard both Sarah Vaughan’s version of “Lover Man” and Tadd Dameron’s recordings featuring trumpeter Fats Navarro. I was hooked.”