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The 11th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Selects Top Five Finalists As Part Of NJPAC’s TD James Moody Jazz Festival


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A world of jazz just minutes from home, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) today announced the top five finalists of the 11th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Pulled from over 200 submissions from over 25 countries, these gifted young contestants from around the world represent the next generation of great jazz singers. The Top Five finalists comprise two international singers Kristin Lash of Bratislava, Slovakia, and Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso of Mexico, and three Manhattanites: Harlem-based Allan Harris and Ekep Nkwelle (originally from Washington, DC), and Lucy Yeghiazaryan (originally from Armavir, Armenia).

On November 20, 2022, the finalists will compete at NJPAC in front of a live audience and before a distinguished panel of judges, including premier jazz violinist Regina Carter, NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor and multi-Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, drummer T.S. Monk (Thelonious Monk, Jr.), NEA Jazz Master Maria Schneider, and WBGO Radio personality Pat Prescott.

Hosted by WBGO Radio’s Gary Walker, this special event will also include performances by the 2021 co-winners of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim and Gabrielle Cavassa, and more to be announced soon. The first-prize winner of The SASSY Awards will receive a $5,000 cash award, second-place $1,500, and third-place $500. The competition recalls the humble beginnings of legendary jazz singer/NEA Jazz Master Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) who, back in 1942, was a Newark teenager and winner of an amateur singing contest at the Apollo Theater. That memorable night helped launch the lifework of one of the most successful, influential jazz vocalists in the history of American music. Past winners include Cyrille Aimée, Jazzmeia Horn, Ashleigh Smith, Arianna Neikrug, Deelee Dube, Quiana Lynell, Laurin Talese, Samara Joy, Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim, and G. Thomas Allen.

The Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, also known as “The SASSY Awards”, is open to singers over the age of 18, of all genders and nationalities, from anywhere in the world, and not signed by a major label. Entrants are judged on vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation, and ability to swing. What has become one of the top annual vocal competitions in jazz, The SASSY Awards offers outstanding jazz singers a one-of-a-kind platform for embarking on a career in the music business—and offers audience members a chance to discover the jazz stars of tomorrow. For more information about The SASSY Awards, visit SarahVaughanCompetition.com.

About Ekep Nkwell

Ekep Nkwelle is a 23-year-old Cameroonian-American vocalist and songwriter. Born in Washington, D.C., she began her musical journey in high school while studying classical voice and jazz performance at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. She received her undergraduate degree in 2021 from Howard University and anticipates graduating this spring with a master’s degree in jazz voice from The Juilliard School. She has been blessed to perform at many venues and events, some notable ones being The Kennedy Center, Dizzy’s Jazz Club, DC Jazz Fest, Tri-C Jazz Fest, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem and International Jazz Day. With her music, Nkwelle strives to share with people all over the world her deep passion for Black music and the history and culture of the African diaspora.

About Kristin Lash

Kristin Lash is a 26-year-old singer from Slovakia. Forming Lash&Grey with her boyfriend, Jakob Grey, they perform internationally alongside many legends and have won countless awards. Independently self-releasing two albums in two years and receiving in Slovakia Best Debut Album of the Year for Sleepin’ With The Lights On (2020), Lash has performed on several European stages such as Jazz Festival Wiesen, Paris Jazz Marathon, Jazztime Ravensburg, Viva Musica!, Fara Music Festival and Prague PROMS. Lash won the best performance award at Bratislava Jazz Days 2019 and Jazz StartUp contest in 2019 and the Discovery of the Year award at the New Faces of Slovak Jazz 2017. She has supported world stars such as Stanley Clarke, Dianne Reeves and Walter Smith III and is preparing her jazz debut release.

About Allan Harris

Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/ guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris is an accomplished and exceptional singer of his generation. He has made 10 records as a leader, performed in critically-acclaimed concerts around the world and received numerous awards, which include three-time winner of the New York Nightlife Award for “Outstanding Jazz Vocalist,” the Bistro Award for “Ongoing Achievement in Jazz,” the DownBeat Critics Poll Award for “Rising Star Jazz Vocalist,” the Hot House Jazz Magazine “Jazz Vocalist of the Year Award” for 2015 and 2016, and the Harlem Speaks “Jazz Museum of Harlem Award.” Harris possesses a potent combination of dynamic vocal abilities, impeccable phrasing and powerful emotional resonance. He is a real story teller through authentic interpretations of the American Songbook, classic and contemporary jazz, popular standards, blues and originals.

About Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso

Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso is a 21-year-old singer, born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. She started singing at age five in her parents’ son jarocho group, “Son de Madera.” (Son jarocho is a musical style originating in the Gulf Coast of Mexico.) Later she discovered jazz and became interested in the genre. In 2022, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies from Universidad Veracruzana. She was a finalist in the solo category in the “Young Jazz Award” of the National Jazz Orchestra of Mexico and was the first-place winner in the ensemble category where she sang with the a cappella group, NAWI. Currently, she is recording her first solo album and working as a backup singer and vocal director for the Mexican artist Natalia Lafourcade.

About Lucy Yeghiazaryan

Lucy Yeghiazaryan is an American-Armenian vocalist who has become a leading voice in straight-ahead jazz. She is a recipient of grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Chamber Music America and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). She was a top 10 finalist in the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition, holds a degree in world history and is a classical violinist. She performs in the U.S. and abroad with regular appearances at places including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland Jazz Club, Mezzrow and Symphony Space. Her debut album, Blue Heaven, was released in 2019 on Cellar Live Records and was followed in 2021 by In Her Words which was sponsored by The Women’s Fund of NYFA. Her third album, Lonely House, will be released in early 2023.


The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), located in downtown Newark, N.J., is America’s most diverse performing arts center, and the artistic, cultural, educational and civic center of New Jersey – where great performances and events enhance and transform lives every day. NJPAC brings diverse communities together, providing access to all and showcasing the state’s and the world’s best artists while acting as a leading catalyst in the revitalization of its home city. Through its extensive Arts Education programs, NJPAC is shaping the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts. NJPAC has served more than 10 million visitors (including over 1.9 million students and families) since opening its doors in 1997, and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.

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