Lanita Smith was your typical “PK,” preacher’s kid. Church was like home, and she knew everything and everyone very well. One thing that got her in a little trouble, was banging on the the piano.
The church’s musician, later asked her to play the piano for services since she was used to being on it. Although she wasn’t formally trained, the 4-year-old PK agreed to do it.“There were of Sunday’s were I sounded a hot mess.”
Every note wasn’t pleasing, but things began to come together as she played more. Her pastor’s wife taught her a piano note every week, and practiced with the piano she had at home.
She also learned a different type of note; singing. Her church had a children’s choir, and she was always the first child to raise her hand when the choir director would ask who wanted to do the solo. “I wasn’t afraid to do anything. Not realizing that I actually sounded good at what I was doing, and it would open doors to other things.”
Her love for music, and her ability to sing and play piano, grew as she matured by being able to play piano by ear, and not needing to see the sheet music. She also began writing her own music, when she was around 8 years old, that she debuted at church concerts.
It was there where people taught her that she has to feel her music, because it’s not enough simply to sing it. Smith describes it as a feeling, versus just being on stage to sing a song.“Lanita has to be moved.”
“I wasn’t afraid to do anything,” Smith said. “Not realizing that I actually sounded good at what I was doing, and it would open doors to other things.”
Although her childhood was filled with music, it didn’t dawn on Smith that she could pursue it full time until she was a young adult.
Her mother passed away in 2011, and she quit music cold turkey. She didn’t want to sing or touch her piano. Things changed when she one day heard her niece playing the wrong notes on her family’s piano.
Smith became irritated, and decided to show her niece how to correctly play the song. That moment changed her life. “It went from me trying to show her something to me actually playing to myself.”
She realized in that moment that she couldn’t let music go. She saw that moment as therapeutic and a come-to-Jesus moment. “Music really does speak to me.”
Since that moment, Smith has pursued her music career with no hesitation. She was hand picked by record producer and record executive, Don Was, to win the Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter 4 contest in 2016. The contest is crafted to help rising musicians further their music careers.
Smith was surprised that she qualified as a top finalist for the contest, because she entered two weeks before the submission process ended. She didn’t see herself as a winner, but Don Was saw differently has he went through every submission and selected Smith with four other finalist.
This left Smith to battle it out and leave everything she had on the stage. Smith had a surreal moment when she walked across the stage after being announced as the winner. “It made me feel in that moment that all the no’s I got made the one yes count. “It made all the other no’s nonexistent at that point, and I felt like it made me appreciate it much more because it prepared me for this moment.”
The contest only propelled and prepared Smith for more as she released her debut solo EP, Listen to You Heartbeat. She also worked with greats such as Colbie Caillat, Jessica Sanchez, German American Idol Judge Mandy Capistro and Teddy Riley.
Furthermore, she had the opportunity to perform live on Jimmy Kimmel. Smith had gone to the show before, but she went to play piano or background sing for others. This time, her name was in lights, and her name was on her own dressing room.“I was blessed to do it, and it literally gave me the platform I needed to kick start my journey in Los Angeles.”
The singer performed her EP at Coachella, Jackson’s R&B Festival, The Troubadour, Hotel Cafe, NAMM and more. Her newest album is titled “Remember Me,” which can be heard on Spotify and iTunes.
You can also hear Smith as 1/3 of Little Monarch. This group was a way for Smith to be creative and make her own mark when She was new to LA. Their music is characterized as indie-pop with the infusion of jazz and R&B. Their current single, “No Matter What,” has generated over 2 million streams on Spotify since its October 2016 release.
“It [winning the Guitar Center contest] made me feel in that moment that all the no’s I got made the one yes count. “It made all the other no’s nonexistent at that point, and I felt like it made me appreciate it much more because it prepared me for this moment.”
The performer is also using her talents to give back to others through the Lanita Smith Foundation. The foundation is centered around helping young people cultivate their gifts. She believes she’s helping young people bring their gifts to life, while setting up platforms for them to be successful.“I feel like in the entertainment business, we often tell young people ‘you’re an amazing singer or you’re an amazing musician,’ but we don’t set them up for success by telling the the business side.”
One of her messages to the young people she mentors is to be consistent. She also teaches them to understand contracts and other basic things. In addition, she awards two high school seniors with scholarships for college based on their gifts, not solely on a GPA. “I’m looking just to help. “I know how it is. I was once in their shoes.”
Looking back, Smith sees every moment of her life, past and present, as pivotal parts that continue to help her evolve and go into her destiny. “The one thing that has sustained me is be true to yourself and who you are and don’t be afraid to be authentic.” “From then until now, I definitely see so much growth in myself in who I’ve become and who I’m becoming.”
*Interviewed and written by Caleb Britt*