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Former Las Cruces resident Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim was co-winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition held in early June at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Tawanda was a finalist among hundreds of applicants from around the world and was co-winner along with Gabrielle Cavassa of New Orleans.
Tawanda grew up in Las Cruces and moved to Los Angeles two years ago, said her mother, Christina Suessbrich, who lives in Las Cruces.
Tawanda performed at Boba Café and other venues in Las Cruces, and studied contemporary music with a focus on vocal performance at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
Tawanda is currently working on a CD, which will be released later this year.
“It was an incredible honor to receive this award, especially coming out of such a year as last year,” Tawanda said. “There was so much fear – the fear of being alone, of not succeeding, of being a woman of color in this sociopolitical climate, of not being strong enough to make it through. Ultimately, it was and is always love that holds and carries me all the way to the big stage. I have the support of my ancestors, my family, friends and mentors all over the world to thank.
“And I also want to express gratitude for my birthplace and my home, Las Cruces, New Mexico, for instilling a groundedness within me that I wouldn’t be me without,” she said. “Now that I’ve seen more of the world, and am living Los Angeles, I can honestly say it is a gift to be from there. Even when I’m away, I’m inspired by our most beautiful sunsets, the vastness, the warmth and the perseverance of the desert. The space. The quietude. A land without distraction.”
Tawanda also called Las Cruces “a land with just a little bit of jazz! I was raised in a multicultural household and had been singing mostly classical music, showtunes, pop music and my own originals before I was exposed to the world of jazz in college. This music is the language of improvisation and emotion, born directly out of the Black experience. It filled in so many blanks for me.
“I have a jazz album on the way,” she said. “It should be here next year. It will be my kind of foray into this genre, so I’m excited to finish it and share it with my community. I look very much forward to my future in multi-genre fusion, as influenced by my melting-pot of a background.
“There are many big things in the works,” Tawanda said. “I just signed with a management company, and as the world opens up again in this new way, and the album comes closer to finishing, I look forward to the opportunity to stop by home in Las Cruces to sing for my homeland and show her how much I’ve grown!”