Sharon Clark was no longer a bespectacled 45-year-old receptionist yesterday. Dressed in a shimmering black-and-gold striped top, Clark stood onstage of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall channeling Billie Holiday.
With eyes shut and hips swinging, she sang "Just Friends" in a rich, deep voice, sprinkling in scat phrases and electrifying the audience, which rose in a standing ovation.
"Just friends, lovers no more. Just friends, but not like before," crooned Clark, the winner of the annual Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, who was accompanied by a pianist.
Clark, a Hyattsville resident, was not the only vocal winner at Artscape. This year, the art festival launched the first Cab Calloway Vocal Competition for men.
Kim Mills, a 41-year-old from Adelphi, was named its first winner, edging past seven other contestants.
"Cab Calloway connected with the crowd and got people into his performance," Mills said. "It's really an honor to be the first winner of this."
This year would have been the jazz singer's 100th birthday.
Robin Vega, the Baltimore Office of Promotion's director of cultural affairs, said it was the perfect time to honor Calloway, whose daughter lives in Baltimore, and to have a vocal competition for men at Artscape. "We'll have the Cab Calloway competition every year," Vega said. "And just as Billy Holiday's contest got quite a following, hopefully Calloway's will, too."
After performing against five semifinalists Saturday, Mills was selected the winner by a panel of three judges, that included Calloway's grandson, C. Calloway Brooks. Mayor Sheila Dixon presented him and Clark with the awards in a ceremony Saturday.
In yesterday's performance, Mills kept his act simple, picking up the tempo near the end of the song "That's All."
Dressed in a navy jacket, he swayed slightly and snapped his fingers singing, "I can only give you love that lasts forever ... that's all. That's all."
He grew up performing with gospel choirs, but started singing jazz in 2000.
"I like the genre," Mills said. "Its melodies are simple and the messages are timeless."
Mills, who quit his teaching job last year to pursue a singing career, hasn't decided what to do with the $2,500 prize.
Clark decided that she was going to put her money into recording her own jazz CD.
She said she got hooked on jazz in high school. "I always wanted to sing R&B, but my high school teacher said, `You have a jazz voice,'" she said. After singing jazz, "I got a different reaction from the audience. It was as if God planted a seed in me."
Yesterday, she chose to perform a song that had a quicker tempo.
"I really wanted to keep things upbeat," Clark said. "When you have an audience, you want to get them going."
Clark beat 27 other contestants for the title.
The annual Billie Holiday competition began in 1990 to honor the Baltimore jazz legend on the 75th anniversary of her birth. The competitions aim to support new local artists by giving them exposure and a cash prize.
Holiday and Calloway were born in different cities but grew up in Baltimore.
Born in New York, Calloway moved here as a child and graduated from Douglass High School.
He joined his sister, Blanche, in Chicago where he learned scat singing from Louis Armstrong. He produced hits such as "Minnie the Moocher" and "You Gotta Hi-De-Ho."