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From gospel to TikTok to vocal big shot: the rise of Samara Joy

Samara Joy
Meredith Truax
Samara Joy

Updated March 16, 2023 at 12:25 PM ET

Jazz Night in America celebrates two-time 2023 Grammy-winner Samara Joy, an artist now in full bloom who was nurtured as a seedling by her tight-knit family and community in the Bronx. Car rides to school were filled with the sounds and stories of her parents' childhoods — musicians like Heat Wave, The Sylvers and Aretha Franklin narrated a countless number of them. Joy's parents recognized her gift at a young age, supporting a childhood dream of becoming an actress. Stepping into different characters pushed her outside of her comfort zone and challenged her creatively; it was an early lesson on how to embody another and how to add color and complexity to a story that may not be your own.

Joy blurred the boundaries between theater and jazz as she took on the challenge of embodying vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, while creating a distinct style of her own. Her former professor, Jon Faddis, feels similarly. "If you can trade with an Ella Fitzgerald, you're fine. You're on your way. She took the baton and ran with it, she's like the Flo Jo of jazz."

In this episode we'll hear highlights of a live set at Dizzy's Club, an unreleased track from her forthcoming record, Linger Awhile, and Joy's perspective on how her musicianship has developed after releasing her debut album, Samara Joy.

"​​I'm looking forward to singing standards of a different era, but hopefully finding the work that will become standards. There are wonderful songwriters out there still doing it, and I hope to do that as well."

Musicians:

Samara Joy, vocals; Tardo Hammer, piano; Ari Roland, bass; Keith Balla, drums.

"Nostalgia" from Linger Awhile: Samara Joy, vocals; Pasquale Grasso, guitar; David Wong, bass; Ben Paterson, piano; Kenny Washington, drums

Set List:

  • I'm Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away The Key (Jimmy Eaton/ Terry Shand)
  • My Mother Told Me (Samara Joy)
  • Moonglow (Eddie De Lange/Will Hudson/Irving Mills)
  • Nostalgia (The Day I Knew) (Fats Navarro/Samara Joy)
  • If You Never Fall in Love with Me (Carmen McRae)
  • Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael / Mitchell Parish)
  • The Trouble With Me Is You (Nat King Cole)
  • Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You (Nat King Cole)
  • I Didn't Know What Time It Was (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart)
  • Linger Awhile (Harry Owens/ Vincent Rose)
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producers: Alex Ariff, Sarah Geledi and Trevor Smith; Assistant producer: Donelle Wedderburn; Host: Christian McBride; Consulting editor: Katie Simon; Concert engineer: Rob Macomber; Episode Mix: Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Taylor Perry, Chris Mees and Matt Peirson.


    Copyright 2023 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Corrected: September 1, 2022 at 11:00 PM CDT
    This story originally cited Joy as having performed "Skylark" — the song was "Stardust."
    Donelle Wedderburn
    Alex Ariff
    Sarah Geledi
    Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.