Danyel Smith has long been a voice for Black women who love and make music. Now, she’s keeping the passion going with her latest venture—serving as the host of a The Ringer Podcast Network and Spotify Original show called “Black Girl Songbook.”
“I’m talking about the history of song, I’m talking about how songs are made. I’m talking to Black women creatives,” Smith said exclusively to ESSENCE.
Smith is renowned for her work as a music journalist and author. In the late 90s, as well as in the mid 2000s, she was the editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine and is credited for expanding the reach of the publication, as well as molding the tone. She has also worked with Billboard (as the first Black editor) and ESPN, where she highlighted various types of sounds, people and events. “When I started out,” she begins, “We were doing a lot of reporting, writing, music criticism and concert reviewing, record reviewing and all of these things—there was a lot of advocacy.” She then added, “A lot of that advocacy still exists in ‘Black Girl Songbook’.”
Smith has kept Black women’s work close to her chest and understands that their stories deserve more nuance than they’re generally afforded. “I’ve interviewed all types of artists,” she said. “But what’s always so in much my heart is the music of people like Whitney Houston, like Sade…these are women whose genius is just not taken care of with detail and grace.” She plans on celebrating legacies like only we can.
During each episode of “Black Girl Songbook,” Smith will play the songs that have moved us for decades, while also giving more insight into the lives of the artists who made them and the roles their work has played in the larger gamut of pop culture. It’s a lesson on the rich and riveting history, and future, of music, because there simply is no music without Black women.
Our hand claps, our thunderous, gritty runs and experiences have been the sounds of generations. We have taught people how to feel, urged them to grow and honored our souls in the process.
The first episode is dedicated to Whitney Houston’s unforgettable 1991 Super Bowl performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.” On January 27, the set celebrated its 30th anniversary and as one of the many fans of Houston’s work, Smith felt it was only right to kick off with one of the late singer’s finest moments.
“It’s such a complex song for Black people to sing. The world has changed dramatically in the past few years because Colin Kaepernick kneeled during performances of it. So, it’s all just very relevant right now,” Smith said. “I think now that everyone’s worked so hard across the country to get this new administration in, it’s time to take a look at [Whitney’s rendition] and how Whitney kind of brought us all together.”
The debut episode will also feature Houston’s friend and Arista records label mate, Deborah Cox.
“It’s just not talked about enough,” Smith said of her fire for delving into these stories. “Black women’s voices inform all of music—not just R&B, soul, gospel and rap…There’s so much we’re going to talk about.”
We can’t wait.
“Black Girl Songbook” is due out February 4 and new episodes will air on Thursdays. Listen to the trailer below.