NJPAC announces launch of jazz vocal competition

Sarah Vaughan

NEWARK, NJ — For the ninth consecutive year, singers from around the world will compete in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, aka “The Sassy Awards,” a 21st-century version of the amateur night at the Apollo Theater that helped launch the career of a gifted teenager from Newark, Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan, more than 75 years ago.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center presents the contest as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, an annual celebration that fills both NJPAC’s campus and venues throughout Newark with jazz performances in a vast array of styles. 

“Sarah Vaughan’s artistry and unforgettable voice had an unparalleled impact on the world of jazz. Her work continues to inspire young performers, and we are proud to honor her memory by shining a spotlight on some remarkably talented emerging vocalists,” NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber said.

The Sassy Awards are a truly international competition and one of the only truly global vocal competitions of its kind. In recent years, finalists from Italy, Lithuania, Russia, England and Denmark have triumphed in the competition’s preliminary rounds and made their way to Newark to perform live at the contest’s culminating event, a joint concert held in front of an audience of jazz enthusiasts and a panel of judges, including producers, industry executives and acclaimed performers.

“One of the pleasures of hosting the Sassy Awards over the past decade has been witnessing how ‘America’s classical music’ is thriving in every corner of the globe,” Schreiber said.

The competition has become a platform for a single outstanding jazz singer to gain widespread recognition in the music industry. Past winners include Cyrille Aimee, Jazzmeia Horn, Ashleigh Smith, Arianna Neikrug, Deelee Dube, Quiana Lynell and Laurin Talese.

Samara Joy McLendon, the winner of last year’s competition, will also appear at the 2020 edition of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival at NJPAC, performing solo at one of the arts center’s Dorthaan’s Place Jazz Brunch events, named for another Newark jazz legend, producer and WBGO founder Dorthaan Kirk.

Vocalists can enter the competition by submitting recordings of at least three songs at sarahvaughancompetition.com. Originally limited to female singers, the contest is now open to musicians of all genders who are 18 years old or older, and who are not presently signed to a major record label. Singers must submit audio and/or video clips by Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.