Through talent, hard work and a seemingly boundless energy, Sy Smith has emerged as one of the leaders of the independent soul movement. Her unique voice and unusual approach to her music, combined with a decade of paying dues, has made her a singer on the edge of something big.
Born in New York and raised in DC, Smith studied classical piano during her childhood, but found a love in classic jazz and soul. She obtained a degree in psychology from Howard University, but soon after graduation began to pursue a career in music. She moved to L.A., and her clear tones and strong range soon resulted in gigs as a backup singer for such artists as Eric Benet and Brandy. This led to a bigger role backing Whitney Houston for a year-long tour, and to further opportunities singing on numerous commercials and television shows such as Ally McBeal, SoulFood and, more recently, American Idol.
Smith is also an accomplished songwriter, and has provided songs to several artists and projects. In 2002 she was nominated for an Emmy Award for writing and performing "Welcome Back (All My Soulmates)" from the HBO movie Dancing in September. And her burgeoning reputation led to the request by the Brand New Heavies for her to be the featured vocalist on their album We Won't Stop, on which she also wrote four songs.
Though she had made some wave with the limited release Psykosoul in 2002, it was in 2005 that Smith took full control of her solo career, releasing The Syberspace Social, an eclectic album that showed her expansive vision of popular music, mixing elements of hip-hop, soul, jazz and funk, all with a very futuristic aura. It was an underground hit, and resulted in her choice as a top five finalist for "Female Vocalist of the Year" in the SoulTracks Readers Choice Awards. She has since released the single and video "Fa Sho" to critical raves and has become a regular sellout performer, particularly in clubs throughout Southern California.
In 2008, Sy released the critically acclaimed Conflict. It was an out-of-the-box smash and showed her to be a true leader in the indie soul movement.
Sy spent the next few years continuing her hard work on American Idol and as part of the extended family of The Foreign Exchange. She also had a successful tour with instrumentalist Zo! In early 2012, Sy released Fast and Curious, her most assured and accessible album. It shot to the top of the SoulTracks charts and widened her audience with a number of great dance cuts, including a terrific cover of Billy Ocean's "Nights" featuring Rahsaan Patterson.
She followed it up in 2018 with Sometimes A Rose Grows in Concrete, a truly career album that blended elements of soul and jazz to create one of the year's most impressive collections. For most of the past decade, she has also toured regularly as the featured vocalist for bandleader Chris Botti, when not performing as a solo artist.
By Chris Rizik