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Setting the Tone

Maynard Jackson’s talented daughter steps into her own spotlight.

Alexandra Jackson

By age 15, she was already performing with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center, and this summer, at age 28, Alexandra Jackson headlines The Atlanta Jazz Festival. The occasion is a “meaningful, full-circle moment” because her father, Maynard Jackson, founded the event 35 years ago, when he was Atlanta’s first African-American mayor.

“My family and I have always thought of music as a natural expression of the civil rights movement because it’s healing and unifying, and it historically opens doors and offers opportunities to people from all backgrounds,” says the youngest daughter of the namesake for our city’s bustling airport. Success must be in the bloodline—her siblings are well-known philanthropist and businesswoman Brooke Edmond; and Maynard III who plays the drums; and one of their great-aunts was legendary opera diva Mattiwilda Dobbs.

Jackson—a striking beauty who sings in a smoky alto register like her heroine, Sarah Vaughan—recently released the EP From the Start, a heady mix of contemporary and old-school standards, including some bossa nova numbers sung in Portuguese. She also plays piano, composes and arranges—“I’m a creator, but, more importantly, an appreciator,” she says.

A graduate of the University of Miami, Jackson has performed with the Florida Grand Opera and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland; backed up Gloria Estefan onstage; and recorded with Al McKay from Earth, Wind & Fire, one of her father’s favorite acts and part of the eclectic soundtrack of her upbringing. “There was always music in our house, from funk to The Three Tenors,” she says, “but my parents really got doe-eyed and would start cooing at each other when they listened to Johnny Hartman, so I’ve always tried to emulate the way he conveyed such a depth of emotion.”

After all, music and love, she says with a lovely lilt, are the “only truly universal languages.”