“for the LOVE of Music” with Sara Troy and her guest Jessie Smith, on air from February 21st
Award-winning singer Jessie Smith didn’t choose soul music; soul music chose her. As a little girl, she had an epiphany during a church performance. Family lore has it, during the show, she bolted up and turned to her mother and said, “The music makes me wanna stand up, and get down.”
As fate would have it, Jessie would journey on a successful, but very divergent, path as an artist, earning acclaim and many coveted opportunities in a variety of genres and musical contexts. Along the way, she would also soak up industry know-how. Now, childhood inspiration, prodigious music gifts, business savvy, and self-assuredness converge with Jessie’s Singles Project. In this setting, she will be issuing a steady flow of her unvarnished swampy soul.
“I had something of an epiphany during a meeting with a producer,” the Nashville, Tennessee-based artist reveals. At the time, Jessie was a crossroads with her career. She was accomplished, breaking into the firmament of what could be mainstream exposure but she was unfulfilled inside. When the producer asked her what she wanted to do, she simply replied: “Sing old soul.” Jessie continues: “He said, ‘why not just do it?!’ The stars aligned for me when I heard that. It hit me in my gut—I could find a place for myself in this world.”
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Jessie’s muddy river musicality courses through Al Green, Gladys Knight, Billie Holiday, Mavis Staple singers, Sam Cook, Otis Redding, the haunting tradition of field hollers, and the messy side of life for a dark, redemptive quality. “What I want in my own music is the sound of crying. When I sing, I want my voice to sound like weeping,” she confides. “I want to rattle cages.”
Jessie’s talent as a musician was apparent as far back as high school where she was entrusted to sing for graduation and, later, recruited to sing opera on scholarship for Mercer University. She finished college at Belmont University in Nashville, specializing in commercial music. Upon graduation, she apprenticed in the pop country industry, worked at an esteemed Triple A radio station, and lent her vocal gifts to demo recordings for songwriters and publishers. Her singing prowess in this context caught the attention of a respected label putting together a singing group. Jessie passed on the opportunity and instead worked briefly with one of the other artists, eventually joining him and his band on a month-long tour. That experience would be formative, imbuing Jessie with the confidence and bravery to search for the pure music within, away from the whims of the industry.
Her search would continue with an EP and album release that edged close to the soulful authenticity she sought. Jessie dipped her toe in the pop business one final time, winning a singing competition hosted by the Nashville Predators. In 2014, Jessie met producer Neilson Hubbard (Matthew Perryman Jones, The Apache Relay, The Orphan Brigade) who intuitively understood the dirty water soul coursing through her heart and mind. From that connection, it seemed there was something in the ether and the wheels hit the pavement. Soon after, Jessie inked a sync licensing deal with Indie Orange, and, on a lark, she covered Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” for a YouTube video that wracked up 15,600 views.
Jessie’s Singles Project channels her refined talents, her business savvy, and her most formative musical inspiration, soul, into one profound artistic endeavor. In the series, there will be a total of 10 tracks that will eventually be anthologized with earlier singles into one full album.
The vibe on this collection is dark, melodies live between the crevices of pop conventions giving off of an emotional rawness that shakes you to your bones. “I love the messy part of life. I want my music to be nasty and stank face gross,” Jessie affirms. “I sing what I want, what is true to me.”
Jessie’s oeuvre personalizes the minor key wailings of spirituals. Her vocals are a revelation, they combine a natural affinity for soul, boundless musical gifts, a natural drawled delivery, and commanding raw emotionality that manifests itself in distinct vocal phrasing including bent notes and elegiac melodic motifs. Highlights in the program of releases include the stirring, “Been In The Storm” which also features a companion video, the rollicking and greasy, “Secrets In The Hollow,” and the nakedly expressive ballad, “Take A Chance On Me.”
In 2010, Jessie had that transformative meeting with a producer. Though she had many compromisingly commercial successes after that, slowly she became brave enough to embrace the core of her artistry: soul. “I had been doing what other people wanted for so long, I had to really be brave to be myself,” she says. “Sometimes you get tested, you have to sit in dark corners to grapple with situations, but what you realize is the best you can do is be yourself. I have so much peace now that I’ve put myself out there, it’s been a wonderful gift.”