From a young age, a deep love of music was instilled in singer Samara Joy.
Hailing from the Bronx, NY, and raised in a musical family, Joy grew up around her gospel-singing father, Antonio Charles McLendon, and her grandparents, who led Philadelphia-based gospel group the Savettes.
However, it wouldn’t be until her time in college at SUNY Purchase, where she studied jazz, that she would begin to seriously consider a career in music. A pivotal moment for Joy was when she heard for the first time Sarah Vaughan’s version of “Lover Man,” live from Sweden, which served as motivation to dive deeper into her interest in jazz.
“I guess I just figured that I would work in an office or some type of professional job, but keep music on the side, until it came time to choose a college,” she says. “College is pretty much the reason that I’m doing what I’m doing now.”
Earlier this month, the talented singer released Linger Awhile, her second album and first for jazz heavyweight Verve Records. This week, she performs in Half Moon Bay at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. It’s the third Bay Area show on her current tour—not bad for someone who had previously never been to Northern California.
“I’ve only been to Los Angeles. I’m excited,” she said in an interview ahead of the tour.
Though still young, the singer has drawn comparisons to many of the great jazz vocalists, singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
“To hear that people are either reminded of those singers or that certain songs that I sing, it takes them back to when they were listening to their parents’ soundtrack, or when they were listening to singers at a jazz festival or something like that, it really makes me feel happy,” she says.
The Sarah Vaughan comparisons aren’t purely vocal, either. In 2019, while a student at SUNY, Joy entered and won the prestigious Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Since then, her career has been on a rapid ascent. When, in 2021, she released her self-titled debut album, it quickly reached wide acclaim, including a four-star review in the Guardian which declared that the album proved American songwriting was in “safe young hands.” Hollywood actress and director Regina King called her a “star in the making.”
That assessment already appears to be coming true. Earlier this year, Joy took part in her first film project.
“I had the chance to record a couple of songs for this movie that’s coming out on Apple TV+ called Sharper, with A24 Productions,” she says. “I went in and I filmed for like a day with these actors—Sebastian Stan, Julianne Moore and John Lithgow, those were the ones that were in the room.”
In July, Joy also completed her first residency, performing for ten days as part of the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy.
“That was so fun. Oh my goodness. We played every day. On the weekend, we opened for Tom Jones and Jeff Beck,” she says. “Not only that, but I also got to interact with other musicians. We ran into Christian McBride. I love the festival season because everybody’s doing their own thing, artists and musicians. So it’s nice that we have places where we can meet up and cross paths in our respective journeys.”
Joy is currently in the middle of a three-country tour. Bay Area residents who missed her recent sets in Berkeley and at the Monterey Jazz Festival now have a last chance to catch her locally in Half Moon Bay—at least, those who acted early enough, as the show recently sold out. It is, after all, likely one of the last opportunities to see this quickly rising star in a small setting. Those who got tickets in time will be able to catch songs from Linger Awhile fresh off the album’s release.
“The song ‘Linger Awhile’ is talking about lingering a while with someone you know, like on a date or something like that. The album title kind of invites people, especially for the Verve Records debut, is like, linger a while, stay with me, you know, listen to the songs and hear what I have to say,” she says.
Despite the comparisons to the greats of jazz past, Joy has her own messages to share.
“At the end of the day, I have to be me.”
Sun, 4:30pm, Sold Out
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay