Star vocal coach “Mama Jan” Smith teams with NBAF

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Jan Smith, center, with singer-songwriter Eli Ensor, left, and NBAF event co-chair Shaye Strager Gilmartin. Photo: Courtesy of the National Black Arts Festival

Jan Smith blew in like a hurricane and gave us a whirlwind tour of her Atlanta recording studio the other day. The walls are covered with photos of her with clients such as Drake, Usher and the members of Collective Soul and Sugarland and she talked with loving affinity about some of the young talents she’s worked with. There’s a 13-year-old right now whose pipes can peel the paint off the walls, and Smith predicts a “huge career” for her. Sort of like that 11-year-old who came in years ago looking for some guidance: Justin Bieber.

There’s a reason artists call her “Mama Jan.” Smith is lending her skills at nurturing talent and networking to the National Black Arts Festival’s upcoming Fine Art + Fashion fundraiser, planned for 6 p.m. March 16 at Neiman Marcus. She is serving as an honorary co-chair, along with National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial and CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller. The event’s co-chairs are Heather Holley and Shaye Strager Gilmartin, and longtime Atlanta broadcaster Brenda Wood will emcee.

Tickets are $500 each. Contact Judy Hanenkrat at jhanenkrat@nbaf.org or 404-372-4572 or see nbaf.org for more information.

“I think it’s going to be a great night,” Smith said. In keeping with her generous nature she is eager to share the spotlight with three artists she’ll be showcasing during the event: Kayla Taylor and her jazz trio, R&B singer Dara Carter and singer-songwriter Elijah Ensor.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception prior to the fashion show and program. Atlanta designer Paige Dawkins, whose company, Lunasoul, creates resortwear with natural fabrics using environmentally friendly practices, will be honored with the Rising Star award.

The National Black Arts Festival is a nonprofit organization that champions music, dance, film, visual arts, theater and the literary arts and “promotes art and culture as vehicles for bringing diverse communities together.” (See the full mission statement and information on other NBAF events at (nbaf.org).

In addition to her role with the event and her busy coaching business, Smith plans a daylong symposium for aspiring singers. Vox Rox is planned for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 29 at His Hands Church, 550 Molly Lane in Woodstock. (For information, see jansmith.com/voxrox-atl-2017-event-announcement).

In the nearer term, she’s excited to help the NBAF support a diverse circle of future stars.

“Life in general is based on relationships,” she said. “The entertainment industry in general.”

As for where music fits in with a fine arts fashion show?

“Hopefully we’ll see a partnership going forward,” she said. “Music is the only thing that can enter your heart and mind without your permission. Music drives everything else. It truly is the universal language that ties us all together.”


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