Seven years ago, Jua Howard was making something of a name for himself in neo-soul circles, crooning in velvety tenor tones reminiscent of Luther Vandross and Donny Hathaway in clubs from New York City to London. Anticipation, his 2007 self-released debut CD of mostly original ballads, was picking up play on smooth-jazz and R&B stations. Yet Jua was having second thoughts about his musical direction. "I got tired of what I was doing," the singer says. "With the neo-soul scene, everything started sounding the same."
Jua, who uses only his first name professionally (from the Swahili language for "sun"), was born in Chicago on January 6, 1979. After 10 years in the Windy City, where he began playing trumpet in the fourth grade, Jua and his mom moved to Lanett, Alabama. He joined the youth choir at a local Baptist church and was frequently called upon to solo. While in high school, he was selected for the Alabama All-State Boys Choir, an ensemble of some 70 voices that focused on European classical music. He and his mother then spent two years as members of the All-Atlanta Choir and made frequent four-hour round trips to the Georgia metropolis to rehearse and perform. Jua then enrolled at Emory University in Atlanta, where he sang in the gospel choir and graduated with a B.A. in English.
Disillusioned with performing in vocal ensembles, Jua stopped singing for two years after graduation. He returned to Chicago, where he briefly worked at a law firm before becoming a fifth-grade substitute teacher. Encouragement from vocal coach Sondra Davis caused him to resume applying his richly rounded multi-octave pipes to song.
Jua spent the next five years in Washington, DC, where he read undergraduate applications as an admissions officer at Howard University and worked on the side as a background vocalist with the Blackbyrds, the band best-known for such 1970s hits as “Walking in Rhythm” and “Happy Music.”
“Jazz was clearly a big part of their foundation,” he says of the Blackbyrds. “Singing with them made me think about pursuing jazz as a career.”
During the summer of 2009, Jua moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and enrolled at Berkeley’s Jazzschool Institute, which is now known as the California Jazz Conservatory. During his year there he became the first recipient of the school's Mark Murphy Vocal Jazz Scholarship, named for veteran poll-winning singer Murphy. He also studied privately with vocal coach Raz Kennedy, formerly of Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra.
Currently dividing his residence between NYC and Raleigh, North Carolina, Jua now emerges as a unique and highly emotive jazz vocal stylist with a remarkable sophomore 10-song CD “Colors of Life” scheduled for release in Summer 2014.