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Samara Joy Wins "Best New Artist" at the Grammy's | Zoey Prestion

As an avid music fan, I was of course watching the Grammys last night, and one of the categories I was most interested in was the Best New Artist award. I looked at the nominees a couple of weeks ago and was excited — Wet Leg and Omar Apollo are artists I happen to enjoy a lot, so I was rooting for them to take the award. From The Beatles to Amy Winehouse to Adele, the category is highly prestigious and contains some of the biggest names in music across 6 decades.

But when Samara Joy was announced as the winner, I was slightly surprised. She was one of the few artists on the list I hadn’t heard of. I was even more surprised when I learned she had won best Jazz Vocal Album earlier that night for her sophomore release, Linger Awhile. The prospect of a jazz singer winning the Best New Artist award seemed out of the blue, especially considering the category is largely pop-dominated: Olivia Rodrigo won last year and Megan Thee Stallion won the year prior.

Jazz is decidedly not my genre. Still, I was intrigued. I gave her album a listen.

Immediately, I was blown away by her voice. Joy’s vocal tone is so smooth and her control seemed effortless. She seems to know exactly when to let notes linger and has such command over rhythm that the songs just flowed, and her voice captured my attention for all of it. I found it captivating. “Sweet Pumpkin” was my favorite; it’s so catchy and up-tempo that I wanted to dance, and her belts are incredible. I listened to it five times because I couldn’t get over how good it was (and how surprised I was that I enjoyed it). Her run at the end of “Misty” sent chills up my spine in the best way possible. The song was one of the few on the album that I was actually familiar with — I knew the Johnny Mathis version well, but Joy puts her own unique spin on it in her version and makes it refreshing. The accompaniment is fantastic too, and I was so satisfied with the way they leave space between notes and know when to let them linger. The songs are simple but easy to listen to, allowing Joy’s vocals to be the centerpoint.

I learned Samara grew up in a musical family listening to jazz music in the Bronx. Her father, Antonio McLendon, is a singer, bassist, and producer who toured with gospel singer Andrae Crouch; her grandparents both performed with the gospel group the Sylvettes. She attended Purchase College, where she studied jazz. In 2019, she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition and has gone on to release two jazz albums and now, at the age of 23, won two Grammys. Her stage presence, banter, and classic style make her a one-of-a-kind voice in the modern jazz world and led to her growing a following on TikTok.

I always considered jazz slow and sleepy, which was why I never bothered to listen to it, but Joy’s voice was so unique and rich that I never felt bored. Now I can say that I understand why she won Best New Artist; she is talented, she is classic, and honestly, she’s refreshing. In her acceptance speech she said, “To be here because of who I am, authentically just being myself, I am so thankful.”

Even as a non-jazz artist, I can learn from this sentiment and her approach to music in general. Taking something old and putting a unique spin on it, taking your talent and running with it, and being authentic to yourself are all valuable lessons for any musician of any facet. I didn’t expect to find a new favorite jazz album today, but I have a newfound respect for Samara Joy and her artistry.

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