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NJPAC Announces Lucia Gutierrez Rebolloso Winner of Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition

Christian Wissmuller • News • November 30, 2022

The Sassy Awards Judges, Finalists, Performers and More (Credit: Shakiru Bola Okoya)

At a star-studded, sold-out performance held yesterday afternoon on the NJPAC stage, Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso was announced the winner of the 11th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Hosted by WBGO Radio’s Gary Walker, “The SASSY Awards” featured performances by the competitions top five finalists as well as special appearances by previous winners Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim and Gabrielle Cavassa.

Recipient of a $5,000 cash award and winner of The SASSY Awards was Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso who wowed the esteemed panel of judges with the bebop standard “Donna Lee”. Rebolloso, a 21-year-old vocalist, born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, grew up singing in the family’s group, singing son jarocho, a blend of Spanish, African and indigenous Mexican influences—a style that originated on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. “It was a natural introduction to the many influences in jazz, with a strong reminder that at the center is a story to tell,” Gary Walker says. “Lucía’s life story is one that will serve her well in jazz for years to come.”

The Second Place honor and $1,500 prize went to Ekep Nkwelle, a singer and songwriter who studied both Classical Voice and Jazz Performance at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts High School in Washington, D.C., and later attended Howard University, where she performed with the school’s prestigious vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. Third Place and a prize of $500 was awarded to Harlem-based Allan Harris, who as a child had the great privilege and honor to watch Sarah Vaughan perform live at The Apollo.

Pulled from over 200 submissions from over 25 countries, the Top Five Finalists took to the stage with magnificent performances in front of a live audience and the 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. 

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 AiméeJazzmeia Horn,Ashleigh SmithArianna Neikrug, Deelee Dubé, Quiana Lynell, Laurin TaleseSamara Joy, Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim, and G. Thomas Allen. 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. The contest 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. For more information about The SASSY Awards, visit SarahVaughanCompetition.com.

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