Samara Joy is a 24-year-old Gen Z artist that is breathing new life into jazz music. This winter, she took her “A Joyful Holiday” tour across the nation, to perform tracks off her A Joyful Holiday EP. And though she is part of a long list of musicians creating Christmas records, she ties in her church upbringing and gospel influences to add a unique touch. 

On December 15th, she took the stage at New York’s iconic Apollo Theater. Samara Joy was met with ferocious applause as she entered the stage. Donning a black sequin dress from the brand Theory, she exuded starpower impossible to ignore. Sparing no time to rep her borough, Bronx, she thanked the crowd for witnessing her “first time at the legendary Apollo theater.” Many artists dream of playing at the Apollo. Samara Joy joins legends like Ella Fitzgerald whose names have been on the Apollo Theater’s bill. This near two-hour set was a must see for jazz fans across New York. 

A Golden Voice with Spirit Like No Other 

“I’ll Keep You Warm” was the first song of the night. This track was oozing sensuality and with each vocal run, it was hard not to get lost in the rich sounds of Samara Joy’s voice. Despite being so young, her hunger and vocal prowess are reminiscent of Black vocal greats that came before her. When she wasn’t singing, she would stand off to the side of the stage, emoting admiration toward her band playing beside her. She was joined by Shedrick Mitchell on the piano, Chally Mikes on drums, and Eric Wheeler on bass. 

The crowd was in for quite the treat. Many found themselves screaming variations of “Yes, girl!” throughout the night, while others covered their mouths in pure awe of the performance. There were times where I even found myself almost getting up out of my seat to burst into applause. 

Family Is Where the Heart Is 

The highlight of the night was undoubtedly the inclusion of the McLendon family. Shortly after “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Samara Joy announced that she would be bringing out special guests. “Now, I was very fortunate to grow up in a musical family… To the point where […] I thought everybody’s family just started spontaneously singing together in perfect harmony after we ate our food.” Fans got to see her father Antonio, her cousins Lovey and Tommy, and her uncle Laurone. She explained that her family members had talent across singing, writing, and playing instruments. And it was clear where the Grammy winning singer got her talents from. Each and every member of the McLendon family was able to shine, and surprise the crowd with a controlled and supported vocal performance. Their ability to harmonize and hold complex notes especially left many in awe. 

The McLendon family was the gift that kept on giving. Near the end of the show, Samara Joy brought her 93-year-old grandfather Elder Goldwire McLendon to the stage. Her grandfather led the Savettes, a Philly-based gospel ensemble. Despite his age, his voice was strong, holding years of singing experience with it. And as he finished singing, the crowd was once again brought to their feet, offering the McLendon family another standing ovation.

If it wasn’t already clear just why Samara Joy is a leader in jazz, her performance at the iconic Apollo Theater solidifies her title. At just 24, she harkens back to the old jazz greats of the ‘50s. A generational talent that clearly studies the masters of gospel and jazz who came before her! 

Want to read more coverage on musicians making waves? Read our interview with Leon Thomas here!