Cynthia Holiday has deep roots in Newark jazz scene



Cynthia Holiday has been attending the Newark Museum’s Jazz in the Garden summertime concert series for years, but will sing at it for the first time on Friday. The event will also include a panel discussion on “50 Years of Jazz in Newark,” and that’s something that she has plenty of firsthand knowledge of.

Her father Calvin Hughes, a trumpeter and bandleader who died in 2006, was a longtime mainstay of the Newark jazz scene, and also taught at Newark School of the Arts.

“He was very, very popular,” says Holiday, who now lives in Fort Lee. “He used to play at all of the (Newark) nightspots, when they had jazz clubs on every corner. Our house was command central for rehearsals, so I knew the musicians, and so forth.

“I was raised in it. And I would go to the performances, and I loved it. So I just got it through osmosis, this love for jazz and blues.”

Still, her first experiences as a performer was as dancer. But after she stopped dancing, she decided to give singing a try.

“I never had the nerve to sing in front of anybody, until all of a sudden, I just said, ‘I’d love to do this,’ ” she says. “I told my dad I wanted to sing. He sent me to Duke Anderson, who was a well known composer and musician in Newark, and I started studying jazz vocals and piano — I’m sorry I never kept up with the piano. But that’s how I got started. And many years later, my dad one day invited me to sing with his band. That was one of the highlights of my life.”

Another turning point Otis Williams of The Temptations, who was married to a friend of her’s, invited her to sing with the group at City Center in New York. “I was hooked after that,” she says. “I was just hooked.”

She released an album in 2008 titled All the Way, which featured both originals and covers, and it now working on a followup that has the tentative title, Cynthias’s Blues and Grooves. “That’s the direction that I’m going in right now,” she says. “I’m gathering material, and working out songs with my band.

“I’m not a big blues-voiced person, but I’ve got that feeling in me. Even when I’m not thinking about getting it out, it’s just in me.”

Holiday will lead a jam session at the last concert of this summer’s Jazz in the Garden series at the Newark Museum. Musicians are welcome to bring instruments and join the jam. The event, which takes place from 6 to 8:30 p.m., will also feature a panel discussion on “50 Years of Jazz in Newark” with Vincent Pelote, director of operations at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, and writers Barbara Kukla and Guy Sterling. For information, visit

For information on Holiday, visit


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