United We Brunch returns to the Madison Sat., March 14. Limited tickets still available!

Band of the Week: Sy Smith 

Concert Preview


Smith, who grew up in the Washington D.C. area, studied classical piano from the time she was 7 until she was 15. "I was a later bloomer when it came to singing," she says. "I didn't start singing until I was in sixth grade and I did the choir circuit. I was really into the choir then and competed in classical vocals." She graduated from Howard University with a psychology degree and continued to sing choir. "I didn't have the guts to go into Fine Arts in college," she says. "I was afraid to audition and didn't know if I could stand next to the kids who had been training all their lives." She joined the all-girl Washington D.C.-based go-go band In Tyme; and after moving to L.A., she toured with Kenny Lattimore before getting gigs singing backup for acts such as Usher, Eric Benet, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Ginuwine, Brandy and Whitney Houston. She also regularly appeared on the Fox television show Ally McBeal. In 1997, she inked a record deal with Hollywood Records, which issued her first single "Gladly," and in the early 2000s, she hosted B!tchcraft, a monthly showcase for musical acts and comedians. She also worked as the lead singer for British funk outfit Brand New Heavies, joining them in the studio at one point. "I didn't go on tour, but I wrote and recorded some songs for their record," she says. "Nobody knew that I did that. It was cool. They weren't trying to replace [singer] N'Dea Davenport. We even spoke on the phone while we were recording."


Smith just completed a New York residency with trumpeter Chris Botti. "I think he's the most popular instrumentalist right now," she says. "Every year he does an annual residency at the Blue Note. Usually, it's 21 nights. This year, it was 28. Two shows a night. And on New Year's Eve, I did a solo show, so I did 57 shows. I think he holds the record on consecutive ticket sales there. It's nice to be in one place for that long."


Her 2012 effort, Fast and Curious, features a fantastic collection of funk- and soul-driven tunes. "Let the Rain Fall Down" includes soulful vocals that are delivered over jazzy rhythms punctuated by percolating percussion. Smith sounds simply sensuous on "The Ooh to My Aah," a tune that finds her practically whispering over cooing background vocals and shimmering synths. "That was the first album I've done where I just had one producer," she says. "The direction of it is very clear compared to some of my other albums. I wanted to do an electric/electro/electronic soul record, whatever that might mean to someone. I wanted it to be based in dance, but not what we called EDM; more like the soul roots of electronic music, like when you had Herbie [Hancock] and Stevie [Wonder] playing that style of music." When she performs in Cleveland, she'll perform with backing from local musicians and one supporting vocalist, Nicholas Ryan Gant, who she's bringing to town from New York.




Sy Smith performs at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6, at Touch Supper Club.


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