The 2015 finalists of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition

By Matt Micucci

Sarah Vaughan was an American jazz singer, whose voice was described as one of the most wonderous voices of the twentieth century, she ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers.

A Grammy Award winner and 1989 NEA Jazz Master Award winner, she often gave the impression that with her wide range, perfectly controlled vibrato and wide expressive abilities, she could do anything she wanted to with her voice.

Born on March 27, 1924, the daughter of a carpented and a launderess who sang in the church choir, her career started after winning an amateur night performance at Harlem’s Zeus Theater singing Body and Soul, the popular jazz standard with lyrics by Edward Heyman and Frank Eyton and music by Johnny Green. Thus began her legendary career, which led her to opening for Ella Fitzgerald in 1943, and being introduced to bandleader and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, which subsequently led to her great success.

Now in its 4th year in a row, as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, also known as the SASSY awards, has chosen five jazz singers to perform in the Victoria Theatre. This international jazz vocal competition for women, the only one of its kind, honors the talent of its namesake by giving one outstanding performer a platform to embark on a career in the music business.

The grand prize winner will receive $5,000 cash prize, but also an offer for a record deal with Concord Music Group, a personalized plaque and a trip to Canada, to perform at the 2016 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.

This year’s finalists were announced by competition co-produces NJPAC and WBGO Jazz 88.3FM.

Emma Lee Aboukasm, who performs as Emma Lee, is a Detroit based recording artist, vocalist, pianist and composer, who performs in both intimate and expansive venues, and has recently co-produced her debut album Rise to It with pianist Scott Gwinnell.

Lulu Fall is a singer, songwriter and actor based in New York. A classically trained jazz vocalist with a musical theater background, she comes from Senegalese and Cameroonian parentage and her music reflects her global perspective and American sensibilities.

Angela Hagenbach is a Kansas City businesswoman, the owner of AH Entertainment, Inc., Eden’s Gate Music and Amazon Records, which released her 1994 debut recording, Come Fly with Me. She toured Switzerland with Clark Terry and worked and recorded with Jimmy Heath, Russell Malone, Frank Foster’s Big Band and others.

Arianna Neikrug, a native of Los Angeles, is a jazz, pop and R&B vocalist currently stationed in Miami. Only 22 years old, she has already shared the stage with various artists, including Steve Miller, Alice Cooper, Al Jarreau, George Benson and Roseanna Vitro and recently won an outstanding soloist award in the college division of the Next Generation Jazz Festival.

Nicole Zuraitis is a Brooklyn-based vocalist and pianist whose innovative sound is inspired by world travel experience. A 2014 winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, she bridges genres by utilizing her unparalleled vocals. She was a semifinalist in the National American Traditions Vocal Competition this year, and her two self-released albums are Pariah Anthem and Spread the Word.

The winner of the 2015 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition will be chosen by a jury composed by jazz singers Vanessa Rubin, Cyrille Amiée, bassist Christian McBride, WBGO’s Michael Bourne and artist manager Edward Arrendell.

The Sarah Vaughan Competition is the only international jazz vocal competition of its kind and provides a platform for one outstanding jazz singer to launch a career within the music business. The first three years of the competition saw nearly 1,500 total song submissions, which music fans from around the globe shared, listened, voted, commented on, and liked nearly one million times online. Furthermore, the competition received over 2 million hits during last year’s competition, making it the world’s most visible jazz vocal competition.

For more information, visit their official website -><-

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