Tyreek McDole Wins The 12th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition

November 24, 2023

As part of NJPAC’s TD James Moody Jazz Festival, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) today announced Washington Heights Tyreek McDole as the winner of the annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.

This marks the second time a male vocalist won in the contest’s 12-year history. Hosted by WBGO Radio’s Pat Prescott, yesterday’s“The SASSY Awards” presented the Top Five Finalists on the iconic NJPAC stage in front of a live audience. 

Pulled from a record 280+ submissions representing 37 countries, they competed in front of a distinguished panel of judges: acclaimed female vocalists Patti Austin, Jane Monheit, and Lizz Wright; NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor and multi-Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride; and three-time Grammy Award-winning producer and A&R consultant Al Pryor. Ultimately, it was 23-year-old Haitian-American Tyreek McDole who wowed them with his renditions of “September in the Rain” and two blues songs: “Lush Life” and “Every Day I Have the Blues.” The recipient of a $5,000 cash award, Tyreek is originally from St. Cloud, Florida, and currently calls New York home.

Tyreek represents the next generation of great jazz singers. He joins an esteemed group of SASSY alumni: Cyrille Aimée, Jazzmeia Horn, Ashleigh Smith, Arianna Neikrug, Deelee Dubé, Quiana Lynell, Laurin Talese, Samara Joy, Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim, G. Thomas Allen, and Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso. Audiences can catch him, along with past winners, performing at the Sarah Vaughan Centennial Concert hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater on April 19-20, 2024, at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Second Place honor and $1,500 prize went to Darynn Dean, a native of Los Angeles who earned a master’s degree in music from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz at UCLA. Third Place and a prize of $500 was awarded to New Yorker 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. Rounding out the Top Five was Bianca Love of New Orleans and Emma Smith of London.

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The SASSY Awards

The Sarah Vaughan International Jazz 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.

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 in Harlem. That memorable night helped launch the lifework of one of the most successful, influential jazz vocalists in the history of American music. NJPAC has a long history of preserving and celebrating Sarah Vaughan’s music and impact. In 1999, NJPAC officially proclaimed the street in front of it as Sarah Vaughan Way.” In addition to The SASSY Awards, NJPAC hosts several celebrations in the 2023-24 season honoring the centennial of Vaughan’s birth. Earlier this year, NJPAC paid tribute to “The Divine One” at its Women@NJPAC Spotlight Gala. In 2024, NJPAC partners with Jazz at Lincoln Center for Centennial Concert series (April 19-20), and more events to be announced soon. www.SarahVaughanCompetition.com

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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 art enthusiasts. NJPAC has served more than 11 million visitors (including more than two million students and families) since opening its doors in 1997 and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents. www.NJPAC.org

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