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Sound Circuit

Samara Joy sings about hope and a vision for the world

5/1/2024

The Grammy Awards showcase the “best of the best” up-and-coming musicians in a variety of genres.

For the Best New Artist award, the majority of musicians have been pop singers, such as Billie Eilish, Adele, Zac Brown Band and Chance the Rapper.  

But for Samara Joy, who, at age 23, received her first Grammy in 2023, her genre is none of the above. It is jazz, and it is a rare achievement for a jazz artist to be awarded Best New Artist.

Joy earned two more Grammys. In 2023, she received a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album, “Linger Awhile.” In 2024, she earned a Best Jazz Performance Grammy for “Tight.” 

After listening to her silky voice and smooth range, one might think she grew up listening to jazz. She didn’t. 

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Instead, she sang in musical theater and in church. She would listen to the radio or her iPod on the bus coming home from school. Her parents and grandparents were musicians, and she would try to imitate their singing. 

“I love imitating family and trying to understand how they got their voices to do that. I tried to develop my singing,” she says. “Then I auditioned to be a jazz major in college, when I didn’t know anything about jazz.” 

After graduating from college three years ago, she embarked on a tour and is currently on “about” her 10th tour, admitting she’s nearly lost track of how many tours she has done. Her latest tour makes a stop in Des Moines at Hoyt Sherman Place on June 13. 

As a 24-year-old, Joy performs to audiences often decades older than she is. She emphasizes that all ages can relate to her subject matter. 

“The things I sing about, any ages or experiences can relate. The subject matter — love, being heartbroken, losing someone special — anyone can relate to it.”

Her original songs also cover subjects young people struggle with, like being overwhelmed and how to go about life when facing challenges and uncertainty. 

“I talk about hope and a vision for the world. Everyone can connect in one way or another,” she said.

Joy connects with fans on talk shows such as “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and “The Drew Barrymore Show.” Her TikTok has more than 6.5 million likes. She’s been dubbed by media outlets at the first Gen Z jazz singing star.

Joy describes how singing jazz versus pop is different, because jazz has a wide range of sounds. 

“I largely do acoustic bass but also piano, drum set and sometimes horns with my vocal range.”

She says each concert is unique. 

“We don’t play the same song every night. The big difference is the band and how we interact together. For pop singers, sometimes the musicians are just there for texture, not necessarily to interact with,” she said. “We have the improvisation factor. Listeners can expect to hear something fresh each night. Anyone who is at the concert can expect to hear live music, created on the spot.” 

After the concert is finished, Joy feels a sense of accomplishment. 

“Thankfully, I haven’t had a bad one yet,” she says. “People are expecting to connect and be amazed and uplifted by the music. There are a lot of people here for their first time. We do our best to bring the energy the same every single time. There is no off night.”

For those who have never heard her, she says this: “If you don’t already know, I’m an artist and not a jukebox.” 

The thing she’s most surprised about in her career is that she is singing jazz. 

“I sincerely didn’t listen to jazz growing up. I’m fortunate enough to pursue and really enjoy expressing myself through singing. Never did I imagine this is what I’d be doing and that I would have so much fun doing it,” she said. 

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