Gabrielle Cavassa of New Orleans and Tawanda Suesssbrich-Joaquim of Los Angeles tie for first place in 9th annual competition.

The 9th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition makes history this year by naming two winners who will each take home the prize of $5,000. The distinguished panel of judges and pillars of the jazz community awarded Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim with first-place prizes in the 9th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. The finalists performed live before the esteemed panel of judges and the event was streamed on NJPAC’s FB Page.

The four finalists took to the stage with magnificent performances, Hailey Brinnel  (Philadelphia, PA) performed a rendition of Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love.”

Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim  (Los Angeles, CA) lit up the stage with her rendition of “Tain’t Nobody Business If I Do” by Porter Grainger, Everett Robbins. Then there was Benny Benack III, (New York, NY) performing a Duke Ellington, and Milt Gabler classic “In a Mellow Tone”  and Gabrielle Cavassa (New Orleans, LA) performed “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” by the great Frank Loesser with NJPAC’s house trio. NJPAC’s 2019  Sassy Awards Winner, Samara Joy McLendon of New York City, made her way to the stage performing a medley “Star Dust” Hoagy Carmichael, Mitchell Parish “Jim” Caesar Petrillo, Edward Ross, Nelson Shawn.

As the first-prize winners of the SASSY Awards, Gabrielle Cavassa of New Orleans and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim from Los Angeles will both receive a $5,000 cash award. Benny Benack III, who was the runner-up, was awarded a $500 cash prize.

Pulled from over 600 submissions, the four finalists performed on the Betty Wold Johnson Stage before the distinguished panel of judges, including multi-Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, jazz vocalist Carmen Lundy, vocalist Vanessa Rubin, producer Chuck Mitchell, and WBGO’s Founder Robert Ottenhoff – all selected this year’s winners.  WBGO’s morning show host, Gary Walker, served as this year’s guest emcee.

The competition recalls the humble beginnings of legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughan 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 (also the winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Competition), Ashleigh SmithArianna Neikrug, Deelee Dubé, Quiana Lynell, Laurin Talese, and Samara Joy, the SVVC winner from 2019 who performed at this year’s competition.

Those that aspire to sing like Sarah Vaughan can Enter Now for NJPAC’s 10th Anniversary Sarah Vaughan Competition on November 14, 2021, by visiting

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WBGO is the global leader in jazz radio, broadcasting from the jazz capital of the world. Founded in 1979, WBGO is a publicly-supported cultural institution that preserves and elevates America’s music: jazz and blues. WBGO reaches a weekly audience of more than 400,000 in the New York/New Jersey metro area via 88.3FM. Through programs such as Jazz Night in America, produced in partnership with NPR and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and WBGO’s position as a content provider to NPR, its reach extends to millions more across the country. From its home base of Newark, New Jersey, Public Radio station WBGO has long been an anchor institution in community engagement through its partnerships, concerts, education, and news programming.

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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 attracted nearly 10 million visitors (including over 1.7 million children) since opening its doors in 1997 and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.