Voices … so many voices.

That’s what’s striking about this year’s Newport Jazz Festival, July 30-August 1 at Fort Adams in Newport. Voices in the form of an impressive array of female vocalists, and voices in the many artists who are strong advocates for social causes, among them Black Lives Matter. And, as always, the Festival offers artists who are comfortable with different genres, legendary musicians, and young emerging artists. And, of course, the surprises.

Absent, as the festival resumes from its year of “quarantine,” are the college jazz bands. There will only be two venues, the Lawn and Quad (inside the fort). The Festival has required pre-COVID screening — those who are vaccinated and those who have received a negative test no more than three days before the Festival’s first day. Doors open each day at 10 a.m., and while the Festival advertises its musical start each day at noon, it actually begins at 11:30 each day at the Quad stage.

There are the legends – Mavis Staples and Charles Lloyd – and those, like Ledisi, who celebrate Festival legends.

Ledisi, a Grammy-winning jazz and soul vocalist, will honor the great Nina Simone, who appeared at the Festival numerous times, the first of which in 1960 that resulted in the album, “Nina Simone at Newport.” Ledisi, who recounts how she contemplated suicide until hearing Simone’s “Trouble in Mind” on radio, closes the Quad Stage on Saturday with her set, “Ledisi Sings Nina Simone.”

The Newport Jazz Festival, founded by George Wein in 1954, has hosted jazz greats every Festival, from Louis Armstrong and Count Basie to Coltrane and Dave Brubeck. And, it appears, this Festival will “Rise Up” to the standards of all those that preceded it. 

Closing the Festival, on the main stage, on Friday will be the very interesting and eclectic group, Khruangbin, with music ranging from soul and psychedelic to rock and funk. The always upbeat and exciting Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will have the crowd on its feet, dancing through the closing set on Saturday on the Lawn Stage. And, on Sunday, the amazing Andra Day will “Rise Up,” closing the day and the 2021 Newport Jazz Festival.

Yes, the female vocalists:

  • Andra Day, whose real name is Cassandra Monique Batie, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Billy Holiday in the United States vs. Billie Holiday. She was said to be inspired to take her stage name, Andra Day, by Billie Holiday’s nickname, Lady Day.
  • Avery Sunshine, a vocalist and pianist, who sings soul, gospel, jazz and R&B, opens the Quad Stage at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.
  • Catherine Russell, daughter of the late Luis Russell, legendary pianist, composer bandleader and long-time musical director for Louis Armstrong, and the late Caroline Ray, a vocalist, guitarist, bassist. Catherine won a Grammy as a featured artist on the soundtrack album for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. She’s on the Quad Stage on Friday at 12:40.
  • Marvis Staples, 82, winner of two Grammy Awards and nominated 13 times. A 2016 Kennedy Center Honoree, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Blues Music Awards and with the Staples Singers, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s in the Blues and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame. She’s a long-time Civil Rights Activist. Marvis is on the Lawn Stage at 4:30 on Saturday.
  • Danielle Ponder, who spent five years as a public defender and is a Black Lives Matter activist, burst on the scene in 2016 with her debut album, “Blow Out the Sun.” Danielle opens the Quad Stage on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
  • Yola, called an “English powerhouse,” nominated for four Grammy Awards, is on the Lawn Stage on Friday at 3 p.m.
  • Ledisi, a Grammy winning jazz and soul vocalist, will honor Nina Simone on the Quad Stage on Saturday at 5:05 p.m.

So many voices, so many beyond the singers.  You can catch Christian McBride in two configurations and pianist Robert Clasper in three different configurations, once each day on the Quad Stage. There’s a jazz harpist, Brandee Younger (opens Lawn Stage on Sunday), and many well-known performers and the ones you’ll meet for the first time.

Best of all, it’s back … the Jazz Festival is back.

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Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.