Samara Joy can now call herself a Grammy-winning artist. During the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday (Feb. 5), past winner Olivia Rodrigo presented the 23-year-old jazz singer with the best new artist award.
“I’ve been singing all of my life. Thank you so much for this honor, thank you to everyone who has listened to me or supported me,” she told the audience in her acceptance speech, as fellow nominees Anitta, Latto, Måneskin and more watched on. “All of you are so inspiring to me, and so to be here because of who I am … all of you have inspired me because of who you are. You express yourself and exactly who you are, authentically. So to be her here by just being myself, by just being who I was born as. I am so thankful.”
In addition to winning the coveted best new artist award, a stiff category that featured nine other nominees across different genres, Joy also won best jazz vocal album for her sophomore album, 2022’s Linger Awhile. It’s quite a feat, considering she began singing jazz just a mere five or six years ago, according to the singer.
After taking home two Grammys, Joy thanked not only the Recording Academy for recognizing her talent, but also her fans for cheering her on and lifting her up. “The best night of my life. Thank y’all so much for supporting me,” she wrote via Instagram, along with a red heart emoji.
So who is Samara Joy? Below, Billboard compiled five things you should know about the artist.
She's a New York City Native
Samara Joy was born Samara Joy McLendon in 1999, and grew up in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. She attended high school in the borough’s Fordham High School for the Arts. While there, she performed alongside a jazz band and won best vocalist at Fordham University’s “Essentially Ellington” competition at Lincoln Center.
“Born and raised in the Bronx, I never thought I would do this,” Joy said, while accepting the award for best jazz vocal album.
She From a Musical Family
Joy’s paternal grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, were musicians who founded the Philadelphia gospel group The Savettes. Joy’s father, Antonio, is also a singer and has played bass while touring for gospel singer Andraé Crouch.
Motown and soul music was a staple in Joy’s household while growing up.
She Record Her First Album While in College
Joy attended SUNY’s Purchase College and studied as a voice and jazz studies major. During her time in undergrad, she gained knowledge of the genre through her fellow classmates and was named an Ella Fitzgerald scholar in 2020, allowing her to attend the school tuition free.
After a video of Joy winging singing with Pete Malinverni, head of jazz studies at Purchase, went viral, she launched a GoFundMe campaign to finance her self-titled first album, Samara Joy, which was released in 2021.
College Helped Define Her Musical Influences
College was instrumental in helping Joy find her sonic inspirations, and she credits Lalah Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and the Clark Sisters gospel group as a few of her influences, in addition to other greats in the jazz genre.
“When I first got to school, trying to learn these standards, I would first listen to Ella [Fitzgerald] for the melody, and then listen to Sarah [Vaughan]. We had to sing them in class,” she told All About Jazz in 2021. “So I would listen to Sarah for the different kind of inflections and stuff so that I could show off a little bit — sing it differently or try something different. But more recently, I’ve been getting into Carmen McRae. I guess I didn’t relate to her at first. But listening to her now, I’m like, ‘Man, what was I missing?’ And Etta Jones. Wow. Really amazing.”
She Has Some Famous Fans
Joy can count Timbaland and Regina King as fans of her work. Timbaland shared a video of her to his Instagram feed in December 2022 and called her singing “flawless.”
Two years ago, King revealed in a roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter that she discovered and was an admirer of the then-rising star. “I discovered a young woman who just seems like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald are both living in her body,” King said at the time. “This girl looks like she’s about 16 years old — this beautiful, precious baby — and all this power and emotion comes out. Her name is Samara Joy, and it brings me joy.”