Ashleigh Smith Q&A

Get to Know
Ashleigh Smith

Read a feature story about Ashleigh Smith.

Ashleigh Smith ('11) (Photo by Kauwuane Burton)Ashleigh Smith ('11)

Degree earned: Bachelor's degree in jazz vocal performance

Hometown: I was born and raised in LaGrange, Ga. I moved to Lewisville after graduation and have lived there since.

Favorite jazz song: When I was 8, I heard my dad play a recording of Ella Fitzgerald's song "How High the Moon." I was completely floored at her voice, realizing she had sung it on the spot. I then learned that song backward and forward. That's where my love of jazz came from, my first obsession. It was kind of like love at first listen.

Best part of being Miss Black Texas USA: Winning the Miss Black Texas pageant in 2014 gave me an avenue to perform around the state and share my platform, Music to My Ears. The pageant platform allowed me to raise funds for awareness of the importance of music programs, and it enabled me to give free lessons to kids in impoverished areas, something I still do today. My goal is to one day open my own music academy and work with children. I was blessed to be in a family where my parents could afford to let me take private lessons and join a touring choir. I want every kid to be able to experience music.

Lessons learned at UNT: All my former professors -- like Jennifer Barnes and Rosana Eckert -- gave me so much advice over the years. For one, always be prepared, be early and know the music. In this industry, you never know when your big moment is going to come. Always have your gig book. It has all the tunes you know and can perform on a moment's notice. Also, network and build relationships. The UNT community is still monumental to my success. All of the recordings I have done were with UNT classmates; even the recordings I submitted to Sarah Vaughan were from UNT recordings. Having that community was crucial. Not having good relationships can kill you in this business. I know that nearly anywhere I go, there will be a list of UNT alumni I can call for gigs, to stay with or to go to dinner.

First performance: One of my first big performance memories is of my first vocal jazz forum at UNT. I remember going into the rehearsals being really scared. I was the new girl because I had transferred in, and everyone else knew each other. Erskine Hawkins was the first piano player that I had met. He played for my forum and helped me lead and communicate with my band and fix my arrangement.

On the Sassy: Winning the Sassy Award means so many things. First, I was honored to have people think I was good enough to have an award with Sarah Vaughan's name attached to it. She's everything you think of when you think about what it means to be a jazz musician. Also, I felt really proud. The UNT jazz degree is no joke. I worked so hard for so many years. It's really gratifying to have someone validate that. All those years at UNT of singing, exams, juries and having recital lessons where you couldn't get things down were worth it. It's for myself, my parents, UNT and everyone who has ever invested in me. I just want to make them proud. The album from this recording contract will be my first. I'm excited for people to hear what my sound is.

Continue Reading