“You look up. It’s decades later,” said Danyel Smith. “And you’re thinking of Stephanie Mills singing ‘When I think of home, I think of a place where’s there’s love overflowing.’”
Today, she is home. The award-winning journalist and three-time author, who has been serious about shining a bright light on Black music, is back on the West Coast.
For Smith, family is home. It’s the place where her mom gifted her her first biography, She Wanted to Read: The Story of Mary McLeod Bethune. “I love that book. And I still have it,” Smith told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “I didn’t realize that little girls could be rewarded for being strong and intentional. She’s such a model on so many levels, as a woman and a little girl.”
But this California girl longed to write. She knew she wanted to be a storyteller as early as Mrs. Gibbs’ third-grade class. “You can tell a story and then give it to people in some sort of package? So they can experience it,” Smith said, recounting her 8-year-old thoughts. She remembered constructing her own book in that class. “It felt so gratifying. I wish I still had it,” Smith said, chuckling. “It was written, like Nas would say.”
Photo courtesy of Danyel Smith
“Black culture is just as important to global culture continuing to exist and move and grow,” Smith explained to BE. “Sometimes it is the party. But a lot of times, it is about very serious things like cultural segregation, geographical segregation… cultural credit. It’s about who gets to be labeled a genius and who doesn’t. These are not small things.
“It was very clear to me that Black people in music were not receiving the credit culturally or financially for their creative work,” Smith continued. “I saw that white artists were paid much more attention to… And I wanted to be a part of changing that.”
Smith was always a magazine girl, having started her career in 1989. She gave a shout-out to two trailblazing Black women in the magazine industry: Right On! magazine editorial director Cynthia Horner and Susan Taylor, who was editor-in-chief of Essence. “Cynthia Horner was creating Right On! magazine when we didn’t have much of anything, especially as teenagers,” Smith remembered. “She is probably the first Black woman editor-in-chief that I saw with my own eyes.”
Danyel Smith and singer Estelle. (Photo courtesy of Danyel Smith)
“I was just working,” said Smith. “For the most part, happily so.” Though messages of self-care and rest are much louder today, Smith was proud to walk into the Vibe office every morning, where she worked with some of the “best” and “brilliant” multicultural people. Mostly Black people. “Black music needed me. I literally had a place in which I was allowed to be as creative as I could be and was rewarded for that,” she said. “I was living.”
Photo courtesy of Danyel Smith
Danyel Smith and T.I. (Photo courtesy of Danyel Smith)
Decades later, Smith is still on an incredible journey of rhythm, resilience, and the power of Black culture. She has been a producer and writer at ESPN and a contributor to numerous publications. Currently she hosts Black Girl Songbook, a music talk show highlighting Black women artists.
“It’s a calling, and I am committed,” Smith declared. “I am in service of Black culture.”
Source: Black Enterprise