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Daniel Smith
Daniel Smith.jpg

Daniel J. Smith is a one-of-a-kind artist. More than a cross-over artist, he’s his own genre. He takes his well-earned place as a core company member of New Music-Theatre.


He was brought to the attention of New Music-Theatre last summer, selected to be one of the five singers for the Composer Librettist Studio and he returns this year as Captain” for the Singer-Actor Team.  He was subsequently cast as Jacob Ross, the historical itinerant Preacher, who arrived in DC in the mid-nineteenth century and brought his special charisma and devotional evangelism to Mount Zion Church, in the work-in-development DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote

Daniel is a busy man. In addition to launching our Cabaret Series this June, he has performed with multiple local theaters, including Washington National Opera, soloed with Cantate and other choral groups, and has also served as a Music Director for several children’s theaters in the Washington DC metropolitan area.


Daniel is also a professor at Howard University in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. Smith. He received his Bachelor of Science in Music Business from Winston-Salem State University. Daniel is also a proud alum of George Mason University, with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance.


Expansive and enthusiastic in his approach, he makes himself emotionally available to whatever role and musical composition asks of him. He is generous to fellow artists and students alike. Daniel has a passion and love for sharing his gifts and helping others to discover and cultivate their own.


Recently, we got to converse about our common interests. Entrepreneurship, that’s where we started.


Daniel: Most people don’t know my background is in Music Business. I’m very driven to the Business side. I’m interested in making sure that artists get paid. Even growing up, I worked first as a Minister of Music. The concept of working for myself and making my own rules has always been part of who I am. It helps me stay organized and I believe influences my artistry. My focus was Marketing and Merchandizing, and I can do it well for everybody else…


Daniel, we both like to support artists in their development.  So tell me how you came to think of yourself as a singer?


I never thought I would be a performer until grad school. I studied one summer on the Amalfi Coast with my voice teacher, Patricia Miller, and I was hooked on singing opera. Singing with an orchestra and without a mic I felt such power and I wanted to go after that.


With amplified music, it requires more work while singing opera sets my voice free. Singing musical theater, the orchestra sound in most DC theaters comes from behind, and it’s hard to hear through such a wall of sound. There are a few rare spaces -- George Mason Theater in Manassas, the Hylton Performing Arts Center, is the best -- designed beautifully for voices.


What kind of music-theater do you most love to express?


I love things out of the box.  I don’t’ mean atonal music though I have an appreciation for it, I don’t particularly like singing it. It takes a long time to get it into my body. I like mixed genres, bringing different elements together, because that’s who I am as a person. Having a background growing up in a Baptist Church, so even singing an Italian aria, my church upbringing will have some influence, and if I’m singing R&B it’s going to have something of a classical approach in it. I love teaching that way too, which I think helps students open up to different parts of themselves.


This “crossover” of influences and identities is how it works in real life. I don’t want to leave parts of me behind. I shouldn’t have to. The birth of what we consider Black music genres – spirituals and gospels – feeds all our popular music forms.


Do you think university and conservatory teaching of singing today is too constrictive?

It’s not just opera, but music-theater departments everywhere.  People teach from a cookie cutter model, and everyone begins to sound bland and the same.  The great opera singers of old, maybe they were not all technically perfect, but we loved them for the character in their individual voices, their imperfections. You heard coming through their bodies and psyches the emotions and what they were trying to tell us. You are made to feel the characters they are portraying – whether it was Maria Callas, Shirley Verrett, or Kirsten Flagstad. They are imperfectly distinct – and fully themselves.


We have been talking about what we consider “excellence” is in our company’s work, and one thing, Daniel, you and I agree on, is the ability to take risks.


Characters in opera generally are not experiencing pretty things, and so they can’t go about their arc singing in only “pretty” ways. Singers must risk at times sounding decidedly  ‘un-pretty.”


We are announcing a season of new cabaret which you have agreed to help lead.  What do you see as the opportunity here? What appeals to you? What do you want to say?


First of all, thank you for the opportunity, And thank you for asking that question, “What do you want to say?”  Singers especially most often don’t get asked that.  Most of all, I love cabaret because it’s a form where there is the opportunity for artists to showcase themselves. And a space for people to experience new art.  In DC, there aren’t enough spaces for this kind of sharing and building such personal relationships.


And don’t you think there is also the opportunity in this most political of all American cities—and such an international city –for radical, transgressive political expression of text, music and even dance – that is at the heart of the permeable art of cabaret?


Yes! And think how much music has played a part in politics or political thought and important radical change! In the African American community, music was always a way to send coded messages, to communicate urgent themes, to protest, and to unite people. Music gets people to come out.  And we need this in telling the stories that make us who we are.


DC Emancipation, our original piece we are now creating, is something young people don’t know anything about and it’s a story that needs to be told. Because the work isn’t over.

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