Lena, Billie and Sarah

NJPAC’s Spotlight Gala salutes a trio of jazz icons.


Music lovers are on a first-name basis with three of the most famous women in jazz. Just mention “Lena, Billie and Sarah,” and you’re likely to get a happy sigh or a fragment of a melody in response.


The incomparable triumvirate of Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Newark’s own “Divine One,” Sarah Vaughan, is the inspiration behind this year’s Spotlight Gala, presented at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center by the Women’s Association of NJPAC. The Sept. 29 fundraiser for NJPAC’s arts education programs and general operations is the hot ticket of New Jersey’s social season, especially for its one-night-only, starry performance by stage greats.


Celebrating the Music of Lena, Billie and Sarah, set for a 7 p.m. curtain in NJPAC’s elegant Prudential Hall, immediately follows the Gala’s buzzy and be-seen cocktail reception. Those interested in enjoying only the performance are able to buy tickets at a special $50 price.


Paying homage to the three jazz divas is an incredible collection of worthy admirers: Cyrille Aimée, Raul Midón, Valerie Simpson, Alice Smith, Bernie Williams and others. Six-time GRAMMY-winning bassist and evening host Christian McBride, who is NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor, directs his Big Band.


The audience can expect to hear exciting and original renditions of numbers that will be forever associated with the voices of these three legends, from “Stormy Weather” and “Strange Fruit” to “Summertime” and “Misty.” After the final bows, a gourmet dinner, dessert extravaganza, and dancing to the music of DJ KISS are all rolled out in dramatic fashion for Gala guests.


A past winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition at NJPAC, Cyrille Aimée was a finalist in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition. Her talents caught the attention of composer Stephen Sondheim, who cast her in a special Encores! presentation at New York’s City Center.


GRAMMY-nominated singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón “plays with such freedom and joy that his hands smile,” writes The Huffington Post. His 2016 rendering of John Coltrane’s classic “Giant Steps” – which sees him fly through all 12 keys – has earned more than 1.2 million views via Facebook.


Singer Valerie Simpson is half of the songwriting, performing and producing entity formerly known as Ashford and Simpson. Their award-winning collaborations began four decades ago and she, along with her late husband Nick Ashford, have penned classic hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Your Precious Love.” She fulfilled her dream of performing on Broadway recently by stepping into the role of Mama Morton in Chicago.


Alice Smith (“Fool for You,” “I Put a Spell on You”) is a passionate singer and songwriter who was raised on gospel, pop, soul and go-go. Her sophomore album, She, is an intriguing blend of rock, pop and R&B. Retired New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, a four-time World Series Champion and five-time All Star, never gave up his passion for the guitar. His critically acclaimed debut album, 2003’s The Journey Within, features fusions of jazz, rock and the tropical rhythms of his Puerto Rican heritage.


For full Gala tickets, email Sarah Rosen at [email protected], call (973) 297-5806 or click here. Full Gala tickets include the performance, cocktail reception, dinner, dancing, and a dessert extravaganza. Tickets for Celebrating the Music of Lena, Billie and Sarah, at $50 each, may be purchased here.


Sept. 13, 2018