Samara Joy is an American jazz singer from New York City. Her smooth, luscious, velvety style and throaty alto reflect the golden era of interpretive genre vocalists from the 1930s through the mid-’60s including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday. Her repertoire is comprised mainly of vintage jazz and pop standards. Joy’s eponymous debut album appeared on the London-based indie Whirlwind Recordings in 2021 when she was 21. Backed by guitarist Pasquale Grasso, drummer Kenny Washington, and bassist Ari Roland, the set was highly acclaimed. After festival and touring appearances, she guested on recordings by the Bruce Harris Quartet and Grasso. She signed to Verve for 2022′s Linger Awhile, and along with Grasso and Washington, it featured David Wong in the bass chair and pianist Ben Paterson. The album won Joy two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist.
Samara Joy McLendon was born in the Bronx in 1998. Her father, Antonio Charles McLendon, is a bassist, producer, and songwriter who toured with Andre Crouch and the Disciples. Her grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, led the Philly-based gospel quartet the Savettes. She credits her father with introducing her to singers from Betty Carter and Dinah Washington to gospel’s Clark Sisters and Kirk Franklin. Joy grew up singing in church, and became a worship leader at 16. She was first introduced to jazz while attending Fordham High School for the Arts, where she performed regularly with the jazz band and eventually won Best Vocalist at an Essentially Ellington Competition. After hearing Sarah Vaughan’s version of “Lover Man,” she enrolled in a jazz studies program at SUNY Purchase and won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2019. It earned her a tuition-free scholarship from the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation. She graduated with degrees in jazz composition and arrangement. To thank the institution, Pete Malinverni, head of jazz studies at SUNY Purchase, asked Joy to film a Fitzgerald song with him playing piano. The two cut their parts separately, and the performances were combined on a reading of “Take Love Easy.” The video went viral.
Buoyed by encouragement from producer Matt Pierson, Joy undertook a GoFundMe campaign and raised enough money to record her eponymous debut album in a matter of days. With Pierson producing, she enlisted guitarist Pasquale Grasso’s trio (all affiliated with SUNY Purchase), drummer Kenny Washington, and bassist Ari Roland to cut her self-titled debut for Whirlwind Recordings. Arriving in July 2021, Samara Joy was composed entirely of standards. It won global accolades, and she was rewarded with gigs throughout Manhattan’s jazz club scene and a concert performance at that year’s Newport Jazz Festival with Grasso, Washington, pianist Ben Paterson, and bassist David Wong.
Joy signed with Verve and recruited the same crew of musicians and Pierson to record her label debut. She appeared on “I’m a Mess,” the first single off Grasso’s charting Be-Bop in June 2022, and issued her own Linger Awhile in September. The release was named Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in 2023. More importantly, Joy won the coveted Best New Artist award. ~ Thom Jurek