Kendall Lujan Is Turning Charcoal Into Diamonds

The 26-year-old from the ‘Couv loves jazz and a surprise mouth trumpet.

Kendall Lujan (Samantha Klopp )

4/5. Kendall Lujan

Sounds Like: Going vintage shopping with a friend who spills all the tea about her shitty ex, but in her distinctive midrange vibrato

Kendall Lujan arrives at Everyday Music on West Burnside Street with gemstones in the corners of her eyes, a green and red vintage-style sweater and freshly reddened hair.

“I dyed it this morning, but I do have red hair,” she says. “I accentuate it a little bit.”

Her trademark coif evokes the name of her upcoming album, Lucky Penny. While it’s not a jazz album per se, “there’s a lot of jazzy stuff in there,” Lujan says, as well as bossa nova, pop, folk and rock. Lucky Penny will be out this fall. The bittersweet lead single, “Goodbyes,” drops April 12 and features the refrain “It takes a lot of goodbyes to get to forever.”

The 26-year-old originally from Vancouver, Wash., lists Canadian indie-pop artist Feist as a major influence, as well as jazz legends Billie Holiday and Etta James. But isn’t that a little Emmylou Harris in those songs, too? She smiles.

“I do this yodely thing,” Lujan says. “I don’t know why.”

The vocal surprises don’t stop there—Lujan also busts out some mouth trumpet on the track “You Got Me,” which she generously demonstrates at the record store.

But if there’s an artist who personally pushed her toward her talent early on, it’s guitarist Carlos Santana.

On a family vacation to San Francisco when Lujan was about 11 years old, her father recognized Santana in a shop getting his clothes tailored. He insisted that his shy daughter—already showing musical promise, despite many battles over practicing piano—go introduce herself. When she did, he gave her this advice: “You must listen to Etta James. Turn charcoal into diamonds with your voice.”

It took a while to overcome some serious stage fright, but she has been centering her solo music career for about the past three years. (Day job: florist at Starflower on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.) In 2023, Lujan toured Europe twice, in part because her management team lives in Vienna. (Amos Heart, fellow 2024 Best New Band nominee and her boyfriend, came along on the second tour.)

She’s returning to Europe again this fall, to tour in support of Lucky Penny, this time with a band. Playing to crowds in Germany, Austria and Switzerland was a big adjustment, Lujan says. Audiences were quiet and respectful during performances, even looking around to see when it was time to clap.

“Here people are talking over you, a couple is breaking up in the corner, people are drunk, someone’s puking,” she says. “There’s a lot going on.”

See Kendall play live at our Best New Bands Showcase on 4/10 at Mississippi Studios. Buy your tickets here.

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