Singer Alice Smith isn't stumping for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama alongside Will.i.am on YouTube, but that doesn't mean she isn't star struck. When the senator's name came up in our telephone conversation, the slow-talking Washington, DC, native ignited. "He is just beyond honey, beyond. He's incredible. Poor little Hillary don't know what the hell to do. She cannot handle it!"
Smith's debut, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me, ponders love, not public policy, and she doesn't know yet how she feels about protest songs, but she is confidently an eager Obama disciple. She's got hope: a dream that Obama will invite her to sing at his nomination. Of course, Stevie Wonder is the frontrunner, and John Legend has the "Yes We Can" inside advantage, but Smith's adamant: "That's the gig I want."
A few weeks earlier, in Los Angeles for the Grammy festivities, Smith nailed a pretty choice gig. A featured performer at the Roots' annual pre-Grammy jam, she reunited with a former bandmate, Roots guitarist Captain Kirk, and covered Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression." Prince attended (as he did another of her LA performances), and in that same taffy drawl Smith wields on For Lovers, she murmurs, "I hear he really liked me" and expressed intentions "to write him a thank-you note." She cuts her wide-eyed girlishness with a Southern manner, adds to that a New York nonchalance and capital-city toughness, and it makes for an effective combination on For Lovers—an album the industry so loved, it released it twice, in 2006 on indie label BBE and again in 2007 by Epic.
The big balladry, the folksy tendencies, the sultry twang, and the gut-powered belt led at least one Brit to suggest to Smith that her music was "too eclectic for black people." Smith said she almost vomited. She's on message. Hopscotching across the country with her three-man band, she doesn't play just one kind of music and certainly couldn't expect just one kind of fan. We are not living in post-racial times as some pundits observing Obama's rise have claimed, but we aren't living on islands of discrete demography either. Whether the exhortations of a handsome biracial presidential candidate or the art of a pretty black chanteuse, all sorts can heed the call.