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Meet Samara McLendon on Afternoon Jazz, Before the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition

It’s baffling to know that Samara McLendon only started singing about six years ago, let alone singing jazz within the last two.

Now in her junior year as a Jazz Studies major at Purchase College (with a concentration in Voice), she fell in love with jazz upon studying with the likes of drummer Kenny Washington and trumpeters Jon Faddis and Ingrid Jensen.

With her demure persona offstage, you’d never suspect the power she packs. Her voice is mature beyond her years, and one can certainly detect the influence of Sarah Vaughan in her vocal delivery. Two of her favorite Sarah Vaughan songs are “A Sinner Kissed an Angel” and “When the Lights are Low.”

Here she is singing “I’m Lost” — a song that appears on the 1958 album Sarah Vaughan à Paris — with accompaniment by guitarist Leonid Vintskevich Jr.

When asked whom she’d consider to be the most influential past winner of the prestigious Sassy Award, Samara didn’t hesitate to name Jazzmeia Horn. For Samara, Horn’s presence and ability to use the stage are characteristics that she aspires to.

The Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition takes place on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. at NJPAC, as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival. Samara says she’s studied her fellow contestants, respects the talent they bring, and isn’t at all nervous to perform in this world-renowned contest.

Keanna Faircloth is a Washington, DC native and comes to WBGO getting her start on-air at WPFW 89.3 FM in 2003, most recently as the host of Late Night Jazz: The Continuum Experience. She is a graduate of Howard University having majored in Music History with a minor in Classical Piano. Keanna has written for NPR Music, and worked for Radio One as an on-air personality, producer and voice-over talent. She is also the creator and host of Artimacy Podcast, where she has interviewed artists like Wynton Marsalis, Matthew Whitaker, Jonathan Butler, and Dionne Warwick. As a result, she was recognized by Radio Ink Magazine as a 2019 African American leader in radio.