This year’s Black History Month focuses on the theme ‘Celebrating our Sisters, Saluting our Sisters, and Honouring Matriarchs of Movements’, highlighting the role Black Women have played in shaping history and celebrating their contributions to the world as we know it – from music and literature, to politics and academia, social and healthcare, and hard won civil rights across the world.
To mark this occasion, we invited Yewande Adeniran to write a series of ‘Black Women in Jazz’ profiles, as a way of joining the chorus of voices honouring the too often unsung Black female artists who have helped define the genre we love.
Following on from our last piece on the late great Nina Simone, we’re spotlighting Samara Joy. Only 23 years of age, she has already won “Best Jazz Vocal Album” with her Verve Records debut Linger Awhile and “Best New Artist” at the 2023 Grammy Awards. Part of the next generation of Jazz superstars, New Yorker Samara Joy in her short career has emerged as one of the definitive voices of her generation.
Despite her tender age, music and Jazz more broadly has been an integral part of Joy’s upbringing. Born into a talented musical family, it’s no surprise her foray into the music industry as a Jazz vocalist is going from strength to strength. Her paternal grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon were founders of Philadelphia gospel group The Savettes, with McLendon a finalist on season 3 of BET’s – Black Entertainment Television – Gospel Talent Show “Sunday Best”. Her father, also a vocalist and bassist who toured with gospel artist Andraé Crouch, introduced her to gospel greats including The Clark Sisters, Soul and Motown music and through her own digging, credits great jazz vocalists Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and instrumentalists Kenny Washingoton, Jon Faddis and Ingrid Jensen.
First following in the family tradition of singing in church then joining the jazz band at Fordham High School for the Arts, when she enrolled into the jazz programme at Purchase College, State University of New York, she became immersed in creating her own sound with her distinct and entrancing vocal style winning her the “Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition”. From there she became unstoppable. In February 2021, she was featured in “Women of Color” on Broadway, Inc’s music video of Summertime from George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. Post a public backing from Regina King dubbing her “a young woman who seems like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald are both living in her body”, her album Samara Joy was released later that year on the 9th of July, with the Jazz Times naming her as Best New Artist that year. It’s by no surprise two years later she won her first two Grammy’s.
Her silky velvety but assertive voice has earned Joy high profile fans in the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Anita Baker, Regina King alongside appearances on the TODAY show, The Late Show, CBS Morning and her videos on TikTok have millions of likes and shares hailing her as one of the first Gen Z jazz singing sensation. Not an easy feat refreshing the genre for a new generation. To some considered a niche interest of older generations, her album helped propel Jazz back into the mainstream injecting some much needed youthful energy back into the genre.
About Yewande Adeniran
Yewande Adeniran, also known under the artist name Ifeoluwa, is known for heading up INTERVENTION, the DJ, production & lighting workshop that travels the UK offering a welcoming space for women and all marginalised people to come together and celebrate all things dance. They’re a multi-disciplinary artist with exhibitions in Sheffield, London and Bristol. As an academic, they’ve given lectures and talks on “The Black Avant Garde” and “Temporal Dichotomies & Speculative Mythologies” and at Berlin’s music and discourse festival CTM. You can find Yewande’s writing at outlets like VICE, The Wire, Mixmag, Resident Advisor, and gal-dem magazine.