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Five Finalists Named for Ella Fitzgerald Competition

The Washington, D.C. contest will take place October 10, with singer Lisa Fischer as a judge

Lisa Fischer performing at the 2018 PDX Jazz Festival (photo by Mark Sheldon)
Lisa Fischer performing at the 2018 PDX Jazz Festival (photo by Mark Sheldon)

Blues Alley Jazz Society (BAJS), the nonprofit jazz education arm of the legendary Washington, D.C. jazz club, has announced the five finalists for its fourth annual Ella Fitzgerald Competition.

They include Lucy Wijnands of Mamaroneck, New York; Ariana Stefanidis of New York City; Naledi Masilo of Johannesburg, South Africa; Atrin Madani of Berlin, Germany; and Taisha Estrada of Alexandria, Virginia.

The jazz vocal contest, previously scheduled to take place April 25, has been moved to October 10 in compliance with social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. Current tickets to the rescheduled event will automatically be valid for the new date.

Open to male and female singers ages 17 to 25, the Ella Fitzgerald Competition is a component of BAJS’ annual Big Band Jam!, its summer festival of youth and school jazz ensembles (which has also been moved to October).

The competition celebrates Fitzgerald, a jazz legend known as “The First Lady of American Song,” by requiring its participants to sing to arrangements from classic Fitzgerald recordings. This year’s competition had as its theme the 1964 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book (arranged by Johnny Mercer), with contestants asked to choose from among five of the charts Fitzgerald used on the album (“Midnight Sun,” “Day In, Day Out,” “I Remember You,” “This Time the Dream’s On Me,” and “Early Autumn”).

Each contestant chose two charts and submitted audio recordings of them to a panel of judges: Darden Purcell, a professor of jazz vocals at George Mason University; Charenée Wade, of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University; and Jessica Boykin-Settles, of Howard University. The judges selected the five finalists.

The competition’s final will bring the finalists to the storied Georgetown club to perform their selected songs before a live audience. The judges will then be joined by a celebrity judge, vocalist Lisa Fischer—who will join the competition winner for a concert with big band and chorus at Washington’s Lisner Auditorium.

The first-prize winner will also receive $1,500 and a booking at Blues Alley. First and second runners-up will each receive $500, and the other finalists will receive $250 each.