New York’s Samara Joy was destined to be a singer.
Coming from a family filled with gospel artists — like her father Antonio Charles McLendon, and her grandparents Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, who led the Philadelphia based gospel group The Savettes — it’s not a surprise that the Bronx born vocalist would end up having a voice that sounds like it was handcrafted by a higher power. Even as a kid, Samara was always surrounded by legendary voices, constantly hearing music from soul legends like Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Luther Vandross. Yet even with a background in gospel music, growing up listening to soulful tunes, and singing in church every single week as a worship leader when she was 16 years old, Samara wasn’t sure about being a full time singer, since it’s not a career that necessarily comes with financial security. However, her mind started to change in 2019 when she won the Sarah Vaughn award.
According to Samara Joy, she wasn’t familiar with jazz music until her college friends started to share songs from their favorite jazz artists. Ironically it was legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughn’s version of “Lover Man” that won her over to start a career in a genre she was unfamiliar with. Her desire to dive into learning about jazz allowed her reap blessings that Samara couldn’t fathom — including being recognized by legends such as Academy Award winning actress Regina King, who praised Samara’s joyful voice during a virtual round table for Hollywood Reporter. The buzz led to her self-titled debut album, released last year and featuring assistance from musicians Pasquale Grasso, Ari Roland, and Kenny Washington. The album found Samara covering timeless jazz hits from The Great American Songbook like “It Only Happens Once,” by Nat King Cole which became one of my favorite songs of 2021.
The positive feedback from platforms such as Ebony Magazine, the Grammy Awards, The New York Times and more put Samara Joy in a position to take her talents all over the world, allowing every crowd that she comes across to be blown away by her voice. In 2022, she is keeping the momentum going by putting out more music ahead of her upcoming sophomore album Linger Awhile, and continuing to tour all over the country. Luckily one of the stops on her tour is in Philadelphia at South Jazz Kitchen on North Broad Street on September 8th and 9th. As she prepares to wow the North Philly crowd with her voice, I was able to speak to Samara Joy about a variety of topics such as early beginnings, how she got into jazz music, her future in songwriting, and her personal connection to the City of Brotherly Love.