Maya Cunningham is Lead Vocalist, Visionary and Director of the Grandmother Project. Hailing from Washington DC, she is one of the most exciting of the new generation of jazz singers. She creates energy when she sings with impassioned vocals and cutting interpretations. Called a “talented young singer” by Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins, her vocals combine the elements of fiery soul, blues and be-bop jazz phrasing.
With a dazzling smile and an electric persona, Ms. Cunningham arrived on the New York City jazz scene in the early 2000s, giving a whirlwind of performances around the city. She has been a featured vocalist at venues like Jazz at Lincoln Center, and on national tours with well - known jazz musicians, including Wycliffe Gordon, Ali Jackson, Stephon Harris and Rodney Whitaker. Combining the improvisation and phrasing of the many early jazz singers who have influenced her, she reinterprets standards, new songs and her own compositions with an original style that is all her own. Her shimmering five octave range all at once floats into the stratosphere of the rarified coloratura and then swoops back down into gut - bucket soul power. She is also a painter, quilt maker and composer, having penned over fifty songs.
She conceived of the Grandmother Project through the inspiration of the bold and brilliant African – American women who have shaped her as a vocalist, scholar and artist. With the voice, the pen, the sewing needle and the brush, her name sake Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, Gloria Naylor, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, Faith Ringgold, Carmen McRae, the Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend and many others have influenced Ms. Cunningham’s music and art.
Cunningham holds a Bachelors of Music degree in jazz studies from Howard
University and a Master of Arts degree from Aaron Copland School of Music at
Queens College. She is also a scholar and is currently pursuing an MA/Phd in
Ethnomusicology with a focus on parallels and connections between African – American, West African and Southern African music at
the University of Maryland, College Park. Ms. Cunningham is a Fulbright Scholar who received this award to study traditional music and national identity in Botswana. She is also a two time recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar Fellowship through which she studied the music and artistic forms of the Gullah community of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as traditional blues music of the Mississippi Delta (summer 2017).