The quarterfinalists for the 26th annual American Traditions Vocal Competition, set for Feb. 18-22, feature a mixture of talent from all over the world and right in our own backyard.

The list of 28 quarterfinalists includes Broadway performers, an "American Idol" finalist, a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and numerous spotlight performances at some of the most reputable music venues in the country.


The competition will return to Skidaway Island United Methodist Church for the first four days of the competition. For the first time, the ATC’s master class and final round will be held at the Trustees Theater.

“We are delighted to be entering our 26th anniversary season with such a brilliant and diverse lineup of quarterfinalists,” ATC Artistic Director Mikki Sodergren said. “Among the successful applicants, we have several ATC alumni, including a previous Ben Tucker Jazz Award winner and Johnny Mercer Award winner. It is always gratifying to see contestants returning, as it demonstrates that people enjoy the experience of participating in the ATC. With our returning contestants and these new voices, the quality and talent for our 2019 competition is nothing short of exceptional.”

Culled from over 200 applicants, which came from seven different countries, including Russia, Chile and Korea, as well as 13 applicants from Georgia, the final 28 vying for a semifinal spot are comprised of 22 new contestants and six returners.


Contestants returning to the ATC stage from past years include Dara Tucker, 2017 Silver Medalist and Ben Tucker Jazz Award recipient and 2018 Johnny Mercer Prize winner. Additionally, Emily Yocum Black returns after winning the 2018 Sherrill Milnes Opera Award, as well as two-time ATC medal award winner Jorell Williams. Past semifinalists Gillian Hassert and Cherresa Lawson are also set to take the stage. Georgian contestants include Heather Witt from Decatur, Ashleigh Smith from LaGrange and Savannah College of Art and Design student George Lovett.

The competition features a prize fund of over $44,000, including the Gold Medal Award with a prize of $12,000 and paid symphonic engagement with the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra.

The talented quarterfinalists have already faced competition by passing the ATC’s Preliminary Round application process by creating a program of three rounds of diverse songs. All of the songs had to be written by American composers and were adjudicated by a distinguished panel of judges.

The 2019 American Traditions Vocal Competition quarterfinalists are: Cyrille Aimée, Jessamyn Anderson, Elizabeth Baldwin, Emily Yocum Black, Sarah Callinan, Christian Douglas, Cooper Grodin, Gillian Hassert, Mykal Kilgore, Sarah Krauss, Liz Lang, Cherresa Lawson, Chloe LeGrand, George Lovett, Kathryn McCreary, Conor Murphy, Katherine Riddle, Millicent Scarlett, Ashleigh Smith, Gabrielle Stravelli, Dara Tucker, Jacob Keith Watson, April May Webb, Elizabeth Webb, Patricia Wilemon, Jorell Williams, Heather Witt, and Hannah Zazzaro.

The ATC announced an all-star panel of judges for its 2019 season earlier this year. Broadway performer and ATC medalist Philip Boykin, Savannah Voice Festival in-residence composer Michael Ching and jazz singer Melba Joyce will adjudicate the popular February contest.

The ATC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, produces the annual competition in Savannah as vehicle to celebrate and preserve all styles of classic American music, according to the organization’s website.


“The American Traditions Vocal Competition is thrilled to announce this powerhouse judging panel for our 26th annual competition,” Sodergren said. “With their various musical backgrounds, exciting career highlights, and especially Mr. Boykin’s previous relationship as a competitor and medalist in the 2003 American Traditions Vocal Competition, we are thrilled to invite these phenomenal musicians to Savannah.”

Boykin currently stars as Tonton Julian in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of “Once on This Island.” The bass-baritone was an ATC medalist in 2003. He debuted on Broadway in 2012 in the Tony Award-winning revival of “Porgy and Bess.” He has been nominated for a Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critic’s Circle Award. He received the 2012 Theater World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut.

Ching was named the Savannah Voice Festival in-residence composer this past year after working with the festival for a number of years. He is well known in Savannah after the premiere of two original operas, “Alice Ryley” and “Anna Hunter.” His 2013 opera, “Speed Dating Tonight!” is one of the most produced modern operas in the world. The 62nd production of “Speed Dating Tonight!” took place at the 2018 Savannah Voice Festival.

Born in Dallas, Joyce has been singing jazz for a number of years. She recorded with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, and has opened shows for Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. She appeared on Broadway in a production of “Black and Blue.” Joyce produced the first Women in Jazz Festival at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Black Culture.