Jazzmeia Horn

It comes as no surprise that a sincere sense of purpose was instilled in Horn from an early age. Born in Dallas in 1991, she grew up in a tightly knit, church-going family filled with musical talent. It was her grandmother, a jazz-loving pianist whose playing was limited to gospel music by her preacher husband, who gave Horn her name. "That was my father’s mother—Harriet Horn—and I guess she knew I was going to be a musical child.” Asked to name the first tune she can recall singing, Horn recalls without hesitation, "’This Little Light of Mine’! I was 3 years old and my granny was standing at the piano, looking at me, saying, ‘You better open your mouth and sing. You better sing loud. Ar-tic-u-late your words.’ I will never forget—she used to always say that. She passed away when I was 12.  But she taught me so much.”

Horn may have started singing as a toddler, but she had to wait until her early teenage years to encounter jazz.

"I went to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas and took this jazz composition class with [longtime music instructor] Roger Boykin there. He would always come out and start scatting and talking about certain singing vocabulary, and in the beginning, I looked at him like he was crazy. I had never heard anything like that before—it was definitely a culture shock. Then he gave me this CD compilation of different singers and musicians.  It had Eddie Jefferson, Al Jarreau, George Benson, and others—and I have to admit it was very weird to me and I wasn’t attracted to it at first, not until I heard Sarah Vaughan. And then I fell in love! After that, I tried to mimic everything she did—her intonation, every little flair she did with her voice, everything. I learned how to scat by listening to her, and I really got into it after I listened to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, because they sounded like vocalists though they had a different type of vocabulary.

"When I first started scatting I thought that there was a certain language that you had to maintain. I didn’t know you could have your own style but after a while, I found my little niche in it and it just became me, it became a part of me and I never looked back from that.”

Horn’s talent grew and began to garner attention. In 2013, she entered and won a Newark-based contest fittingly named for her initial inspiration—the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition. Then in 2015, at a gala concert at the Dolby Center in Los Angeles, she won what is arguably the most coveted award a young jazz musician can claim today—one that would lead to her recording A Social Call—winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition.

"I was excited but I was overwhelmed at the same time; there was a lot going on in my personal life—I had just become a mother—so I didn’t really have a chance to really notice exactly what was going on until a couple of months later. I remember as soon as I got the award, and finished meeting Mr. Herbie Hancock and some of the judges—Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater—I had to go backstage to feed my baby. That was really the top priority for me. It was crazy time for me.”