“My sound is not so much straight-ahead jazz,” Ashleigh Smith claims. “It’s very R&B and funk infused. That’s a part of my upbringing and I love that about my singing.” The 27-year-old Dallas-based singer and songwriter was reflecting on what set her apart from other singers at the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition of which she won. “I noticed it more when I was competing against other people. You are what you listen to.”
Raised in a nurturing, musically enriched household with her two sisters in LaGrange, Georgia, Smith seemed destined to become a musician. Her mother, Deborah Smith sang constantly even though she’s physical therapist by trade, while her father, Edwin Smith, is a pianist and former school band director. Smith also had a grandfather who played jazz saxophone; a grandmother who played classical piano and sang; and an uncle who played jazz trumpet. At the tender age of four, Smith began singing along records that her father played. “I would just imitate everything. When I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘How High the Moon,’ that was it for me,” Smith fondly recalls.
But Smith also absorbed the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bill Withers, and Sting during her early years. Those touchstones and several others echo on her August 26, 2016 Concord debut, Sunkissed, produced by Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers. “I listen to a lot of new stuff but I really dig a lot of old stuff,” she says. “I wanted that side of me to be a part of the album. I believe in that older R&B and pop music and the time when real instruments were used. And while some of those old recordings with singers weren’t always perfect, they were beautiful. The mistakes are what made them beautiful.”