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Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Announces 2023 Winners

First place went to 21-year-old Mexican singer Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso

2023 Sarah Vaughan Competition winners Ekep Nkwelle, Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso, and Allan Harris
Left to right: 2023 Sarah Vaughan Competition winners Ekep Nkwelle, Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso, and Allan Harris (photo: Shakiru Bola Okoya)

Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso, a 21-year-old vocalist born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, took first place in the 11th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, which was held yesterday (Nov. 20) in front of a live audience at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, N.J.
 
An impressive performance of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” earned Rebolloso favor with a distinguished panel of of judges including violinist Regina Carter, bassist and NJPAC jazz advisor Christian McBride, drummer T.S. Monk, NEA Jazz Master Maria Schneider, and WBGO Radio personality Pat Prescott. The prize: $5,000 in cash.
 
Second place ($1,500) went to Ekep Nkwelle, a singer/songwriter from Washington, D.C., and a past member of Howard University’s vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. Third place ($500) belonged to Harlem-based Allan Harris, who noted that as a child he had watched the competition’s namesake Sarah Vaughan perform live at the legendary Apollo Theater. (Newark native Vaughan’s experience winning the Apollo’s Amateur Night at the beginning of her career was the initial inspiration for this contest.)
 
Rebolloso, Nkwelle, and Harris were the top three applicants in a class that started off with more than 200 submissions from 25 countries. 
 
Past winners of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition (also known as the SASSY Awards) include Cyrille Aimée, Jazzmeia Horn, Ashleigh Smith, Arianna Neikrug, Deelee Dubé, Quiana Lynell, Laurin Talese, Samara Joy, Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim (tie), and G. Thomas Allen. 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, visit SarahVaughanCompetition.com.