Najwa Parkins is a Philadelphia-based vocalist, songwriter/composer, arranger, bandleader, and educator. Her voice has often been described as smooth, smoky, and soulful— with a profound range of emotion. Although she believes “soul” can’t be taught, she does attribute much of her vocal range, stamina, and hornlike agility to her classical voice studies, which she began in 2004. Najwa has been praised for her compositions, which are both lyrically and musically engaging.
Born to Jamaican immigrant parents, Najwa was raised in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. As a young child, she made the commute to New York City with her parents every morning on their way to work. In the car, they listened to American music of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s as well as the ska, reggae, and dub of Jamaica. At home her three older brothers were actively listening to the hip-hop of the day, making their own beats, and writing rhymes. As a result, Najwa’s creative taste is as eclectic and varied as her upbringing. Her musical journey formally began at 9 years old, when she started studying guitar privately and playing trombone in the elementary school band.
At 13 years old, Najwa attended a performance featuring jazz vocalist and electric bassist, Nancy Reed. She immediately recognized a kindred spirit and fell in love with Nancy’s voice. Najwa soon began studying with Nancy, and at 14 years old, she was performing in jazz groups at various local venues, for public and private events. In high school, she continued to add to her musical activities and accolades. She was selected to perform as a member of the COTA Cats Jazz Band as a trombonist and vocalist, she played leading roles in her school musicals, and she performed at Carnegie Hall as a member of the National Honor Choir.
As an adult, Najwa has continued to succeed and grow. She graduated from Temple University with a B.M. in Jazz Studies and Vocal Performance. During her time there, she received numerous merit based scholarships and awards. As a trombonist and vocalist for the Temple University Big Band — under the direction of Terell Stafford— Najwa performed at various prestigious venues and festivals. After graduating from Temple, Najwa released her self-produced debut album, Not the Next Someone Else in 2011.
She has shared the stage with a wide array of artists including Benny Golson, Larry McKenna, Bob Dorough, Nellie McKay, Donn T, Houston Person, Nicholas Payton, Phil Woods, and Branford Marsalis. Performing as both a vocalist and trombonist Najwa has been a member of Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra. She is also the featured vocalist on the 2013 release, New Celebration, by Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra. She can be seen and heard on the Emmy Award-winning television show, Alex and the Kaleidoscope, which premiered in March 2014.
Najwa has performed in various schools, performance venues, and festivals in the United States and Europe including the Levitt Pavilion Pasadena, The New Brunswick Jazz Project performance series, The Kimmel Center, ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Musikfest, the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Hague Jazz Festival, The COTA Jazz Festival, Rockwood Music Hall, the Barnes Foundation, the Deer Head Inn, The Jazz Bridge Neighborhood Concert Series,
The African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Twin City Opera House, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Historic Hotel Bethlehem.
Najwa currently leads her own trio and quartet in Philadelphia. In 2013, she became the new vocalist for Hot Bijouxx, which performs an “energetic mélange of Prohibition-era jazz, French gypsy swing-waltz, and Brazilian bossa nova.” In the winter of 2016, she toured nationally, portraying Rosa Parks in the Mad River Theater Works production of “Walk On: The Rosa Parks Story. Najwa graduated from New York University with a M.S. in Professional Writing in May 2016. She returned to Temple University in the fall of 2016, this time, as an adjunct faculty member in the vocal jazz department. As an artist and performer, Najwa believes in the importance of connecting with the audience by telling stories through music. She draws on life experiences in writing her own music and lyrics as well as in her interpretation of the music and lyrics of others.
" Najwa Parkins is not only a very talented vocalist/musician, but she is to be admired for her devotion to excellence. While working with her, the first thing I was struck by was the maturity in her interpretations of The Great American Songbook. She has obviously done her homework. Oh, and she swings, too." -Larry McKenna
“Najwa Parkins has long been an integral part of our Pocono musical family. She recorded on our newest CD, "Celebration 2" as a player and singer. And when we need to help a community member she is always there. A great musician and stalwart citizen. I sleep a little better knowing she is on the cutting edge of our musical future." -Phil Woods
"Najwa is a refreshing new voice --a little smooth, a little edgy and a whole lotta smoky-- she brings her own special take to familiar jazz standards. With sweetness...and sass. Ms Parkins also delivers wonderfully crafted, original tunes that are smart, insightful and sometimes even amusing." -The New Brunswick Jazz Project
"I had to see where this big voice was coming from-- and you're not bigger than a minute!" -Woman at a gig