This year brought local jazz singer Quiana Lynell bountiful reasons to celebrate.
Chief among those recent accomplishments is her first-place win in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in November. Prizes included $5,000 and a recording contract with Concord Records.
An LSU School of Music graduate from Cedar Hill, Texas, Lynell originally opted out of pursuing a music career. She worked in sales instead and started a family. Later, a co-worker, Janelle Brown, encouraged Lynell to perform again.
Since that push, Lynell has performed with Brown's zydeco/blues band, 2 Da T, as well as with the Michael Foster Project, Roderick Paulin and Don Vappie.
In 2016, Lynell continued her rise when she sang her original composition, “Baton Rouge,” during a televised benefit concert for flood relief at the Raising Cane’s River Center Theatre. She shared the stage with Harry Connick Jr., Randy Jackson, Hunter Hayes and Aaron Neville.
In advance of her performances with “George Bell & Friends Present: An Evening of Holiday Jazz,” on Sunday and Monday at Manship Theatre, Lynell spoke to The Advocate about her blooming career.
When did you learn about the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition?
About three years ago. I was waiting until I felt like I could maybe be a contender. This year, I was ready to give it a try.
How did you approach the competition finale?
I thought of it as just another performing arts center where I wanted to perform. Being picked to be a finalist already put me in a place where more people would know me. That was a testament that what I’ve been doing is working.
Your selections included “Hip Shakin’ Mama,” a blues song identified with Irma Thomas. Was that bold of you, to sing blues at a jazz competition?
Very much so. But all of the great singers did blues songs. Jazz was birthed from the blues.
Your rewards for winning include a recording contract with a great label, Concord.
The cash is cool, but the prize is the recording deal.
How did Janelle Brown, your late bandmate in 2 Da T, talk you into performing again?
Janelle said, "Quiana, you should be singing." I was like, "Oh, no. I’m a mom. I can’t go out late at night. That’s not my life." Janelle said, "Your kids will be OK. Come sing with me." And after Janelle died, I kept hearing her words.
Did you learn a lot while you worked with 2 Da T?
That’s where I gained my chops for entertaining. When I saw Janelle on stage, I realized there are people who can entertain you like you have never been entertained before. Janelle took you on a journey during a four-minute song. Experiencing that and working with the guys in the band helped me get my stagecraft up. My ease on stage and my ability to connect with an audience came from those days at Club Raggs on Plank Road.
GEORGE BELL AND FRIENDS PRESENT: AN EVENING OF HOLIDAY JAZZ
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge