Some artists are chameleons, constantly evolving to meet the demands of a changing creative landscape. Today’s guest, Sy Smith, meets that definition, and then some. Sometimes called “the hardest working woman in underground soul” by her peers, Sy is a renowned actor, songwriter, and session singer who helped cultivate Los Angeles’ progressive nu-soul scene over a decade ago.
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Welcome to The Conduit, a podcast featuring candid conversations with professional musicians who give listeners the unvarnished truth about being an artist in the music industry. In today’s episode, host and LA-based DJ, producer, and musician Dan Ubick (aka Constantine “Connie” Price) sits down with Sy to discuss her creative journey as a vocalist and performer. “Singing is such an intimate thing,” she tells Dan early in the interview, which delves into the vocalist’s precocious start in the music industry and traces her ascent to the “Queen of Underground Soul.”
Born in New York City and raised in Washington D.C., Sy understood the value of creativity thanks to her parents, who exposed the young girl to reading, writing, museums, and theater at an early age. “Traveling was always a part of my life,” adds Sy, who learned about regional hip-hop by crisscrossing the country on her creative journey. Eventually landing in LA, where she now lives and works, Sy got her start as a session vocalist, providing backup to legendary artists like Whitney Housten, Chaka Khan, Usher, and Sheila E along the way. Over the decades she’s released five critically acclaimed albums, including her most recent, 2018’s Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete and her acclaimed debut, Psykosoul. Sy is the recipient of two NAACP Theater Award nominations, and has numerous television acting credits. You may recognize her from the hit FOX show Ally McBeal, where she had a long-term recurring role backing Vonda Shepard. Her voice can also be heard as the character Aisha on Saints Row, an action-adventure video game that features original music and production from the artist.
Sy also shares her thoughts on singing and making music for a living, what it felt like to be a Black artist on a predominantly white record label, and why she ultimately decided to strike out on her own. She offers some practical advice to emerging singers and musicians that covers auditions, recording, publishing, and performing rights. “Publishing and performing rights are constantly in flux,” she says, urging working artists to keep pace with the rapid changes in the music industry.
Inspired by her surroundings wherever she goes, Sy appreciates how being raised in a creative environment fueled her imagination for a lifetime. Her curious and flexible nature allowed the nu-soul artist to forge an eclectic career path she’s deeply passionate about. Tune into today’s episode with Sy Smith for an inspiring tale of fortitude, persistence, and gratitude.