Cecile McLorin Salvant

Cecile McLorin Salvant grew up in South Miami, but lives in New York. (John Abott/Courtesy / April 10, 2014)

Miami-born Cecile McLorin Salvant must get tired of being called a prodigy.

Because at just 24, she can claim a best jazz vocal album Grammy nomination for last year's "WomanChild." When she was 21, Salvant won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. And last year, the New York Times wrote: "If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald — it is this 23-year-old virtuoso."

On Saturday, Salvant brings her preternatural virtuosity to the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach as part of Tigertail Productions' FLA-FRA Florida-France Festival.

In a phone interview, Salvant says she grew up in South Miami in a French-speaking home. Her father, Alix Salvant, is a Haitian-born physician. Her French mother, Lena McLorin, founded the French American School of Miami.


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Salvant headed to France after graduating from Coral Reef Senior High to study law and classical voice, but got drawn into a jazz class taught by Jean-François Bonnel. Teacher and student eventually became bandmates, recording her first album with Bonnel's quintet.

"It took me three years to finally settle on the decision that I was going to be a musician," she says, although it was something she daydreamed about as a teenager. "It was one of the far-fetched dreams you have as a kid, along the lines of being an astronaut. For me, I was going to be an opera singer. It seemed very distant."

Like any kid her age, she hurried through a Spice Girls stage, followed by a grunge phase complete with a Mohawk and many hours spent listening to Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

"I definitely grew up in a musical household," says Salvant, who now lives in New York. "There weren't that many old jazz albums around the house, but there was definitely a huge collection of different kinds of music. I remember hearing world music, hearing some American popular music, some folk music, bluegrass and things like that. I think the thing I took away from that was an openness and curiosity regardless of genre or the time it was recorded."

Her most recent album includes a song written by vaudeville comedian Bert Williams in 1906, Bessie Smith songs from the 1920s and the classic Billie Holiday tune "What a Little Moonlight Can Do."

"I always choose songs that I really connect with deeply and somehow surprised me," she says. "I like to kind of go for the more rare things, things that haven't been recorded that often."

Her listening habits remain eclectic. Right now, rapper Kendrick Lamar and baroque pop singer Kate Bush are on her playlist.

She doesn't have a clue about where her career will take her. "I have no idea," she says. "That scares me. Even a week from now scares me."

Cecile McLorin Salvant will perform 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach. Tickets cost $25. Call 305-324-4337 or go to ColonyTheatreMiamiBeach.com.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632