Tara Middleton is a 2022 Grammy Nominee and a 2019 Pew Fellowship nominated vocalist, violinist, and lyricist. She is currently the lead vocalist of the legendary, Grammy-nominated, Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen, (which also utilizes her talents as a violinist, flutist, and lyricist). For over ten years she has also relied on her music education degree when working as a teacher with the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, the Arts in Education Northeast PA, the Northeast Conservatory of Performing Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tara is strongly tied to the diverse flavors and talents of the Philadelphia music community; and is equally influenced and inspired by legendary jazz vocalists, (whom she fell in love with as a teenager), Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Cassandra Wilson.
Her vocal style started as a personal fusion of a classic jazz style and the clean, romantic tone of Brazilian jazz. It has evolved into an amalgam of many other music genres that have appealed to her ear, heart, and soul. Tara’s expressive styling and enchanting stage presence have captivated audiences around the world. Described as “a sublimely gifted singer” by The Quietus magazine, you can trust that seeing Tara in action once will make her unforgettable to you.
From early in her life Tara has studied classical music, vocal styles, and instrumental jazz music under several prominent mentors, including Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki, Booker Rowe, Gerald Price, Dr. George Allen, Patty Wackenhut, and Marshall Allen. She began her training, at the age of five, with studying the Suzuki Method at Settlement Music School, in Philadelphia. She was given direct lessons by the method creator, Shin’ichi Suzuki. Being gifted with an exceptional ear for pitch recognition and memory, she performed her first recital the same year she began her studies. At age nine, Tara began taking vocal lessons and soon found herself holding the microphone as a lead vocalist.. [with who?].
Throughout grade school and high school, she was engaged in classical music competitions and performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and other international chamber music ensembles. For four years she held the position of 1st Violin/2nd chair in the Philadelphia All-City Orchestra while furthering her studies with Philadelphia orchestra violinist, Booker Rowe.
During her time in the music degree programs at the Community College of Philadelphia and Rowan University, she was invited to personal tutorships with professionally acclaimed musicians. She studied voice and jazz harmony with jazz vocalist Patty Wackenhut, jazz pianist Gerald Price, bassist Craig Thomas, and guitarist Jimmy Bruno.
While at CCP, she was a principal vocalist in several vocal ensembles. This inspired her to co-found 4Freedom — an A Capella jazz quartet that performed under the co-direction of Dr. Clayton White. 4Freedom performed for many influential private engagements and commercial “jingle” recordings. Tara played as a violinist, flutist, and lead vocalist for the CCP Big Band, while also acting as assistant to its director — Dr. George Allen.
She co-founded The Foundation Singers, with vocalist Janet McDonald, after graduation. The Foundation Singers were an African-oriented A Capella trio that garnered wide acclaim throughout the tri-state folk music community. For over a decade they performed at festivals, private events, nursing homes and churches, and also academic workshops with “The Tall Storyteller” Kala Jojo. In 2007, using 100% fan funding, they recorded the CD Foundation Rocks, with guest percussionist William “Duke” Wilson. The CD’s first pressings were immediately sold out at public performances.
Since then, she has performed and recorded as a featured vocalist with various ensembles that spanned a broad range of songbooks and styles — including straight-ahead and avant-garde jazz, Brazilian Portuguese, Afro-Cuban/Caribbean, and Operatic avant-garde. Some of the ensembles Tara has recorded/performed with include: Sonic Liberation Front, (an African-Rhythmic jazz ensemble led by percussionist Kevin Diehl); La Tumba, (an Afro-Cuban/Caribbean ensemble led by percussionist Robert “Rogi” Kenyatta); JazGuardian, (a contemporary jazz unit led by Sun Ra Arkestra guitarist D.Hotep & drummer Kimpedro); and Nick Millevoi’s Desertion Trio ensemble (which resulted in rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine).
Tara first performed with the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen in 2012, as a violinist, during their Sun Ra Centennial International Tour. After a year of rehearsing, she then took the stage as their lead vocalist, and as the lyricist for Marshall Allen’s compositions. Since then she has rehearsed, toured internationally, and recorded multiple albums with them in those capacities. Tara’s most recent recorded work with them can be heard on the recently released, Grammy-nominated, Sun Ra Arkestra album “Swirling”.
Her more recent projects include working as a vocalist and instrumentalist with Bowerbird’s Arcana New Music Ensemble, as a recording artist and performer with Philadelphia Jazz Project, and as co-founder of an electro-experimental jazz duo called Jupiter Blue. It was very recently that Tara was commissioned to compose and perform original work for BalletX dance company — co-writing and touring the ballet “Twelve Bells”, and touring their production of “Sunset”.
She is a rare, authentic artist who brings an irresistible blend of emotion, highly trained musicality, unique melodic insight, and sonic exploration to every song she sings. This blend is achieved by intuitively focusing on the essential elements of her art — the story of the song; and this focus translates into a voice full of unexpected warmth and character.