We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Alex Vaughn, a Prince George’s County native, continues her breakout year with a sold-out, one night only show this Sunday, Nov. 6, at Songbyrd. The event will be Vaughn’s first live performance since releasing her mainstream debut album, The Hurtbook, last month. The flourishing R&B singer moved to L.A. and joined the Love Renaissance (LVRN) record label in 2021, quickly becoming an up-and-coming star in the industry. Her single “Mirage” has accumulated more than 3,000,000 streams on Spotify since its February release, and various publications including BET, Essence, and VIBE have endorsed her talent.
Growing up in the Capitol Heights and Brandywine neighborhoods played a significant role in Vaughn’s development as an artist. “There’s a lot of community in the DMV, and that energy helps me as a performer, a writer, and a human overall,” she tells City Paper. Vaughn graduated from Suitland High School’s performing arts program, and briefly attended Hartford University on a scholarship for Classical Voice and Music Education. But the young singer did not see classical music in her future, and returned to Maryland to pursue a career in R&B. She released her first project in 2015 titled The 4pm Mix, produced by the veteran duo FootsxColes. During that time, Vaughn maintained an active presence in the DMV music scene that lasted for more than half a decade, performing at marquee venues, and frequently working with local creatives, such as Matt McGhee and Odd Mojo.
In 2018, Vaughn, alongside one of her management team members, Lena Lavonn, launched AV Sessions, an open-mic series that takes place on the third Wednesday of every month at Pie Shop. The duo was inspired by an L.A.-based event series called Unplugged. “People would go onstage and vibe with the band, versus the usual open-mic where people just come up and plug in,” Vaughn says of the west coast iteration. They applied the live band aspect to AV Sessions, and introduced an Artist Spotlight section to promote local creatives. As Vaughn notes, many up-and-coming artists struggle to land gigs if they aren’t well connected. “The objective was for people to create their own community, so they wouldn’t feel like they have to break into another one to get their 10,000 hours in,” she says. “People need to get the opportunity to shoot in the gym, so I made the gym.”
AV Sessions still takes place every month, and has featured dozens of musicians from across the DMV, including Innanet James, Anguesomo, DBassline, Ayotemi, and Henri B. Styles. Although Vaughn currently lives on the west coast, she assists in organizing the open mic events, and uses the showcase for her own musical pursuits. “I find people to work with through AV Sessions,” she says. In fact, the opener for her Songbyrd show was determined through a contest held at a recent session. The winner, local soul vocalist Amaiya Holley, played some of her first performances at Vaughn’s open mic.
Vaughn’s experience organizing AV Sessions, while releasing music as an independent artist, prepared her for the challenges that came with joining LVRN in 2021. The abundant resources, high-profile networks, and frequent creative involvement of major labels can often overwhelm new artists, and cause them to question their own abilities. Vaughn did not succumb to the second-guessing, noting, “for a long time I was under the assumption that I have to do [everything] myself, so I’ve kept that muscle instilled in me while entering these new spaces, and it is helpful.” She views her time coming up in the local music scene as a reminder: “I have been doing this work for a long time, and I know what I’m talking about.”
After releasing her Voice Notes EP through the label in early May, Vaughn’s debut album for LVRN/Interscope Records dropped Oct. 7. The eight-track project consists of stand-alone stories that detail troubled relationships in the singer-songwriter’s life. Each relationship issue stems from a shared inability for either party to confront their emotions. (Prior to being signed, Vaughn wrote all her music, and she wrote six of the eight songs on The Hurtbook.)
“We would either ignore how we feel, smoke it away, or double back. We’d do everything except address how we felt,” she explains. Vaughn made The Hurtbook to unpack these relationships. “I [wanted] to show that it’s okay to say how you feel, and to feel it out loud. It’s okay to feel different things, you just need to accept that you feel them,” Vaughn says, concluding, “[That’s] what The Hurtbook is about. If you want to make it to the next chapter you’ve got to tap into yourself.”
The introspective and story-driven tracks provide a comprehensive introduction to Vaughn’s unique vocal and songwriting abilities. It also features melodic production from local music savant DJ Money and Grammy-winning producer Rodney Jerkins.
Those planning on attending the sold-out concert Nov. 6 can expect to hear Vaughn’s first live renditions from the album, alongside older cuts. “I plan to take us all for a ride. The Hurtbook is the most current representation of where I am, but I didn’t start here, and I want people to see the whole journey.” Holley will join Sunday’s performance, along with special guests. Those who were unable to grab a ticket need not worry. Vaughn confidently assures us, “You can expect more music, or my face, in the near future. I plan to just be anywhere and everywhere God wants me to be.”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the correct dates for AV Sessions, which falls the third Wednesday of every month.