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Sy Smith

Interview | Soul/R&B Diva Sy Smith — “Proud, fierce and free”

Neo-soul, R&B diva Sy Smith dropped her album Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete last year. One of the tracks, “Perspective,” captivated B. Slade, who asked Smith if he could remix it. One thing led to another and gave rise to Sometimes A Rose Will Get A Remix, featuring remixes from artists like Applejac, JSoul, B. Slade, and Modern Grove Assembly.

When the time came to shoot the video for “Perspective,” B. Slade teamed with Alex DiMarco, director of Dance-Off, to produce a visually sensual and alluring clip, showcasing Sy Smith’s delicious talents, along with the distinctive voice of B. Slade.

Not only because of her music, but because of her dazzling presence and charisma, I have always wanted to interview Sy Smith. Since she was in Europe on tour, the interview took place via email. Even so, her charm and style emerge through her words.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a Black woman, first and foremost. Proud, fierce and free. I’m a perpetual student. I’m constantly learning and always curious to discover things about the world, things about people. I’m always looking to see how things are connected and correlated. I’m a lover of words, rhythms, harmonies and melodies. I tend to hear those things in everything too. I’m such an artist. Such an Aquarius. Probably both of those things to a fault.

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

I cursed out my English teacher in high school. I actually cursed out a couple of teachers in high school. I probably shouldn’t have done that. I just really didn’t like how they treated me so I spoke out. I got in big trouble for that. I’ve since gotten way more diplomatic at how I speak out when I feel like I’m being wronged. LOL!

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

I love belting out old Jackson 5 songs like “I Want You Back” and Frankie Lymon songs like “Goody Goody.” I also like belting out DMX’s “Who We Be” and most anything by Bone Thugs N Harmony. LOL! Just depends on what kind of day I’m having.

Who is your favorite music artist?

This is always a tough question to answer. I love all the greats though. Michael Jackson, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Minnie Riperton.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

I started playing piano when I was about 6 and finally got a private teacher when I was 8. I studied classical piano for about 9 years. I didn’t start singing in front of people until I was 10 or so. At a music teacher’s suggestion, I auditioned for county chorus where I lived (Prince George’s County MD) and I made it. From then, I auditioned for almost any exclusive-seeming choir I could find (all county, all state, all eastern) and finally toured Europe when I was 16 with the US National Chorus. When I finished high school, my parents let me join a go-go band (it was an all-girl band called Royalty Queens) and that was my first foray into performing contemporary music. Up until that point, I was all classical/choral/concert repertoire. After I finished college (Howard University), I moved to Los Angeles to perform in a small musical and I decided to stay there. I ended up booking a gig as a backing vocalist for Kenny Lattimore and then Whitney Houston and then a host of artists (Usher, Macy Gray, Meshell Ndegeocello, DJ Quik and many more). The rest is pretty much history.

What musicians influenced you the most?

I’m influenced quite heavily by the artists I listed earlier (Michael Jackson, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Minnie Riperton) and also artists like Chuck Brown, Patrice Rushen, Deniece Williams and hip-hop artists like the Native Tongues (Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah).

How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?

This is a loaded question. My musical influences shape my music in the same way that parents shape their children. I’ve been able to find my own voice, but my shaping comes from the molds provided by all the artists/art that has influenced me over the years.

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Sy Smith

You’ve been dubbed “the Queen of Underground Soul.” Do you like or dislike the title?

I don’t mind that title so much. I remember the sister who said that to me some years ago. It was in Dallas at a music conference. She meant it as a compliment and I appreciated the sentiment. Still do. It’s not a crown I wear lightly. I have always tried to carry myself in a queenly manner whether folks saw my crown or not though.

Your new music video is “Perspective.” What’s the story behind the title of the song?

“Perspective” is the opening track on my album “Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete” (I wrote/produced this whole album by the way). It’s a sexy, flirty song with a hypnotic bass line. But the video is for a remix that B.Slade produced. He called me last year and said, “I really love what you’re doing Sy and I LOVE ‘Perspective’! I wanna do a remix to that song! Can I?” Of course I said yes because B.Slade is a beast of an artist. I sent him the a cappellas and the rest is history. He sent back a couple of remixes and I knew immediately that we should shoot a video. We had a good time shooting too. He’s just a consummate artist!

How did you hook up with B. Slade?

We’re friends but I can’t remember how we met. Artists in our genre tend to know each other, whether through mutual friends or just through the circuit. I know that I had a house party once a few years ago and he ended up coming through. That might have been the first time we met in person. But I’ve been a fan of his for a long time.

In the music video, you demonstrate great dance moves. Are you a trained dancer, or just kind of pick it up?

Heavens no, I am not a dancer at all. LOL! That’s funny though.

What’s next for you musically?

I’m starting to conceptualize my next album, but I don’t want to let anyone know how I’ll approach it just yet. I’d rather just write/record/release it. But until then, I’m still performing and working “Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete.”

Will you be doing any touring?

Yes, I’m touring as a featured vocalist with Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti. As I type these answers, I’m in an airport lounge in Krakow, Poland where we just finished our European tour.

I’ll be touring with my solo show too. I have September 5 at Rockwood in New York City and I’ll be doing a solo tour in Russia in October! People can visit my website to find out when/where I’ll be performing: www.sysmith.com.

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