Samara Joy On Performing At The Grammys

The 23-year-old with a “once-in-a-generation” voice is nominated for Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year Grammys.

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When Pollstar caught up with Samara Joy she sounded ebullient. The 23-year-old Bronx native, whose voice has been called “once-in-a-generation,” was in Los Angeles taping “The Jennifer Hudson Show.” Now, here she is considering her approach to performing on the 2023 Grammys this weekend and where she’s up for two awards — Best Jazz Vocal Album for her lauded debut, Linger Awhile (Verve) and Best New Artist. Here, Joy discusses getting news of her nominations while riding in Amtrak’s quiet car, her plan for improvising on her Grammy Premiere Ceremony performance and how the heck she’s gotten so far in such a short amount of time.

Pollstar: Congratulations on your incredible year and now you have two Grammy nominations!
Samara Joy: Thank you. It’s definitely a lot to get used to. I’m not accustomed to the spotlight, but it’s been really, really exciting. I’m very happy about all that’s going on.

Where are you now?
We’re in Burbank. We stopped by “The Jennifer Hudson Show” yesterday. The taping is going to to air Friday.

How did that happen?
I ran into her. We were doing a couple of songs for SiriusXM in the studio. I was mid-song, and then the hallway doors open and she just walks, like there’s a ray of light around her or something. And then she stood through the window. She was like, “Is that Samara?” I was like, “Wow. Guys, you gotta stop the song. I need a moment.”

Did you sing together?
No, we didn’t get the chance to sing together, but who knows what the future holds?

How did you find out about the nominations?
I found out about the first Grammy on the Amtrak from D.C. to New York. I was just kind of people-watching and reading and then I get a bunch of texts saying like, “You’ve been nominated for a Grammy!” I was like, “The heck?” I couldn’t really yell or anything because I was still in the quiet car. So I was like, “No, I can’t freak out with all these people.” Although maybe that would’ve been fun too, to document that. Just tell the whole train car, “You’re witnessing history here, folks!” [laughs]. But when I got off the train, I started dancing and singing. Then when I was on my way home, I got another text, “And Best New Artist,” I was still over the moon that I was nominated in the first place.

What’s your take on being in the varied Best new Artist category with ten others that are really varied and include Wet Leg, Omar Apollo, Maneskin, Anitta and others?  
It’s cool the nominees in this category run the gamut of music tastes. It captures what’s actually out there. It’s not like, “Well, the Grammys are just for the pop stars and people who are known.” It’s like, yeah, we have Brazilian pop stars and indie bands and different genres represented so that it’s hard to choose, but it’s great all of it is being represented in this one category.

How did the Grammy performance come about?
I don’t have all the details surrounding how I got it, but I know I’m going to be performing at the Premier Ceremony.

Who are you performing with?
Thankfully, I’ll be with my band I’ve been touring for the last four or five months. We’ve developed a rapport with each other so I’m glad that they’ll be able to share in that moment as well.

Who’s in your band?
They’re all like my age, in their 20s. Luther Allison plays piano, he’s originally from North Carolina. Mikey Migliore, I went to school with, and Evan Sherman he’s a  great arranger, big band leader, composer and an amazing drummer.

What song are you doing?
We’re doing a song I recorded and we do live called “Guess Who I Saw Today.” I hope everybody enjoys the live version of it at the Grammys.

Will you improvise?  
Actually I think the song we’re going to do “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” I have to confirm. But within each arrangement it changes over time and I’ll be like, “Let’s add a vamp where we can all experiment.” Or maybe, “There’s a part in the middle where the drums can trade with the piano and then that’s where there’s improvisation.” And even for me, I like to improvise on the melody of the song, obviously giving the writers credit by singing the melody correctly. But then, but taking liberties as a singer and as an interpreter to make it my own. But yes, that’s definitely something we always keep in mind whenever we’re playing.

Have you started practicing for the performance?
Because we’re on tour and because we know the songs, the only thing we have to practice is shortening them, because the time slots for performances are very limited, but other than that we’re prepared.

Who’s on your live team?
My manager is Matt Pierson. My booking agent in the States is Chris Mees, his agency is B Natural, and in Europe, Catherine Whitaker.

Do you have a tour plan to play bigger venues as you keep touring?
Yes, and and we’re definitely strategizing so that we leave room for the big opportunities. 2023 is already kind of like mapped out. Just like playing certain markets that either we haven’t reached yet or we have and want to play in a bigger venue in that market But I do love intimate spaces, so when I can get the best of both worlds, intimate spaces, but it looks like a hall or performing arts center, those are the best.

Who are you taking to the Grammys?
I’m bringing my parents, my two brothers, my sister, and my uncle.

What can we look forward to the rest of this year with you and your group?
This year I want to take more steps further toward becoming the artist that I want to be, whether that’s writing my own music, collaborating with my peers, doing some horn or string-type things or learning songs in different languages and adding that to my repertoire, just taking more steps. Last year I was afraid because so many eyes were on me. I was afraid to make a mistake, so I didn’t try to take as many risks when it came to singing. This year is about not being afraid to make mistakes.

It’s incredible you’re a kid from the Bronx who found your way to the top of the music industry and you’re only 23. What advice would you give kids aspiring to that kind of success?
First, you have to define what success is for you and for your life. You have to identify your strengths and what makes you, you, and expand upon that. It doesn’t have to be just one thing. It could be a multitude of skills that you find you’re just naturally good at. And not being afraid to follow your path. Because if I had followed the path of what people wanted me to do, it’s like, “You could sing anything, you could do this, you could do this,” then I might be in a totally different position. As opposed to me just being like, “Well, and it doesn’t matter how much fame there is in it or anything like that, I just want be good.” I want to be a good singer. I want to present a great show. I want to connect with people in an intimate setting.” I found what I can do and I found a lane that not only I feel I’m good at, but I feel like I can grow in it still.