By Daniel Oyefusi
For The Diamondback
Shortly after performing a rendition of Jill Scott's "He Loves Me" littered with vocal runs, Alex Vaughn gave a shoutout to her roots.
"Let me just give a quick shoutout to Suitland High School and University of Hartford for their classical training," Vaughn said to a packed crowd during her Saturday performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Vaughn — a singer, songwriter, pianist and producer born and raised in the DMV — made her first return to her hometown in late April since moving to Los Angeles in March to pursue her music career. She said she came back for two weeks to perform at a series of gigs around the area.
"I love it," Vaughn said of returning home. "It's been weird, honestly. It's a two-way tie between me feeling like I never left and me feeling like I'm a visitor in this area."
While Vaughn admitted moving to Los Angeles was a "leap of faith," she said it was also a moment that she felt was tailored for her.
"The opportunity presented itself for me to move to California, and it's something I've always wanted since I was a child," Vaughn said. "I didn't question whether I was ready or not because if I wasn't, the opportunity wouldn't have been presented to me.
"[In Los Angeles], you're surrounded by people who literally moved to this place to pursue their dreams and just be themselves unapologetically. But it's also a place where you could easily get lost and you could easily get caught up in the wrong things or forget your purpose or why you're out here in the first place."
This isn't the first time Vaughn has taken a risk — the 23-year-old left the University of Hartford in Connecticut, where she studied music education and vocal performance, to focus on her music career full-time in January 2014.
"When I left school, I was like, 'I'm going to be an artist, regardless,'" Vaughn said. "How am I taken seriously as an artist? Music. So I put together a project."
The result was "The 4pm Mix," her first EP, which was released in 2015 and produced with the band FootsXColes in three months.
"She has always been working," said Coles, the band's pianist who attended Suitland with Vaughn. "She always wanted to do stuff. When I first got my studio in the 11th grade, she would hit me, like, 'Yo, what you doing? I'm trying to come through.' She was already on it, as far as her work ethic."
During the Kennedy Center performance, Vaughn and FootsXColes shifted through contemporary hits like Daniel Caesar's "Get You" and Solange's "Cranes in the Sky," before performing unique versions of classic jazz songs like Billie Holiday's "Body and Soul" and Ella Fitzgerald's "Don't Mean A Thing."
Vaughn ended the hour-long performance with some of her original songs — "ISH," "Good Morning," as well as "Blessings," from her forthcoming project, The Shift, which she said she expects will be released in June.
"What goes unknown about Alex is how humble she has stayed and how she makes time for everyone and she's extremely hardworking," said Foots, the band's drummer. "And she's just fun to work with."
As she returns to Los Angeles to finish The Shift and continue her new journey, Vaughn is looking to keep that sense of self wherever she goes.
"Me moving was another part of The Shift, so I have to address everything accordingly," she said. "I know that what's for me is gonna happen regardless."