For first time, Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition ends with two winners

Gabrielle Cavassa and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim are the winners of the 2021 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.

It’s the first time in the contest’s nine-year history that it has ended in a tie. Each of the winners took home the $5,000 prize.

The four finalists, selected from more than 600 submissions, performed live with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s house trio in front of the competition’s panel of judges and a strictly limited audience on Sunday evening. The event was streamed on the NJPAC’s Facebook page.

Suessbrich-Joaquim performed a rendition of ’T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do, the blues standard first published in 1922 by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins and later popularized by  Bessie Smith and others. Cavassa sang the standard I’ve Never Been in Love Before, written by Frank Loesser for the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls.

The other finalists were Hailey Brinnel of Philadelphia, who performed Cole Porter’s Easy to Love, and Benny Benack III of New York, who performed Duke Ellington and Milt Gabler’s In a Mellow Tone. As the runner-up, Benack was awarded a $500 cash prize.

The panel of judges comprised Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, vocalist Carmen Lundy, vocalist Vanessa Rubin, producer Chuck Mitchell, and WBGO interim president and CEO Robert Ottenhoff.

The competition was originally scheduled for 2020, but was postponed due to COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The NJPAC is already accepting submissions for its 10th edition, taking place Nov. 14, 2021. Those who aspire to sing like Sarah Vaughan can sign up at

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