After winning 3 Grammys by age 24, jazz vocalist Samara Joy comes to Ann Arbor

This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.

Jazz vocalist Samara Joy was only 23 when her second album, "Linger Awhile," was awarded Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2023 Grammy Awards. She also won the prize for Best New Artist that year and went on to win the Best Jazz Performance Grammy the following year.
But Joy, who will perform at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on March 27, is thoughtful and collected, referring to the whirlwind of her recent fame as "all this" and describing herself as "pretty normal and kind of predictable."
"As wonderful as it is, it didn't change me," says Joy, now 24. "It only reaffirmed the fact that I can be myself. I'm just going to stick to that and see where else it takes me."
Meanwhile, she says she finds some stability watching and re-watching old episodes of "Seinfeld," "That’s So Raven," and "Abbott Elementary."
Joy’s Ann Arbor performance will coincide with the 100th birthday of Sarah Vaughan, an artist with whom she is frequently compared and who has served as an important source of inspiration.
"I think it was meant to be," Joy says of the coincidence.
In three minutes, she says, Vaughan could pack in "the most music I’ve ever heard." She describes Vaughan’s oeuvre as "the most melodic, the most technically advanced but still emotionally captivating music," and praises her "incredible vocal range, raw emotion, completely advanced musicality, and for showing singers like me that there are options, that you can sing as if you're playing an instrument."
"Anytime that I perform," Joy adds, "it’s a way that I can say thank you."
Joy grew up in a musical family; her grandparents founded the Philadelphia gospel group The Savettes and her father, a singer and a bass player, toured with Andraé Crouch.
But Joy says that when she began exploring music, she felt that "it didn't necessarily have to be confined to the world of gospel and to strictly gospel repertoire." She began leaning more heavily towards secular music — and especially jazz.
Her parents supported that decision all along, while her grandfather took a little longer to come around, Joy says.
"But we're closer than ever now," she says.
When it comes to the future, Joy has an apparently endless list of projects in mind. She wouldn’t mind collaborating someday with Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, or Cécile McLorin Salvant, a vocalist she says she "adore[s]." She’d love to start a summer camp for young musicians and vocalists where she could "share anything that I know and help them get a head start." Maybe she could also start a daycare, "in honor of my grandma, who had a daycare." Plus, she’d like to record an album with her family, and collaborate with an orchestra. And she’d like to make a documentary about "all of this," she says.
Anyway, Joy says — those are just "a few things" she has in mind.

Tickets for Joy's Ann Arbor performance, presented by the University Musical Society, are available here.

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Photo by Ambe J. Williams.
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