From the joy of being one with an enraptured audience to reminding us of who carried disco on her back when the genre was attacked (Donna Summer), author and editor Danyel Smith takes us on an intimate, remarkably data-rich journey through the history of American pop, and her own passionate musical life. In conversation with Shelley Youngblut, Smith takes to task the widespread “rudeness” of disdain for the female musical experience and makes us fall in love with Janet Jackson all over again. Watch again here.

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The former and first African American editor of Billboard and Vibe magazine, respectively, Smith has also written two novels, and is the host behind the brilliant podcast Black Girl Songbook that, like Shine Bright, celebrates Black women in the music industry. Her episodes range from the legacy of Whitney Houston’s unforgettable performance of the national anthem to the army of Black women publicists that moved music starting in the 1960s.


Smith’s introduction to Janet Jackson was on the author’s eighth birthday, when her mother got her tickets to see The Jackson 5 at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California; the opening act included Janet Jackson, who was the same age as Smith. Of her now long-time friend, Smith says: “I love her. She’s like eight people. In the best way.”

Danyel Smith On Janet Jackson


In a 1995 cover story for Vibe magazine, Smith interviewed Whitney Houston about her faith, her marriage to Bobby Brown and her take on the independence of Black women. In Shine Bright, the author pulls together the tendrils of the story of how Houston ended up on the cover of the magazine.


As a teen, Smith met an extraordinary young man who hung out with her friend group. In a 2017 article in Spin magazine, Smith recalls Tupac Shakur’s 18th birthday in the back of a limo; last year she devoted an episode of her podcast to the late rap icon, titled “The Tupac You Didn’t Know, But I Did.”


Shining bright at 10 years old, Smith’s favourite childhood photo from that time is this one with her friend who lived next door to her in Los Angeles. When she ran away from home for a night, Smith says her adopted friend’s Jewish family took her in without question. “I think this photo speaks to how, at that time — this is like mid-70s— that people did interact, that people did know about other cultures. Like you could be a white girl with blonde bangs sweeping over an eyebrow holding an Afro pick and you can be friends with the angry little Black girl from next door.”

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Join Us!

Wordfest’s Spring storytelling event The Way We Stay Rooted presents three writers whose books take us to the heart of the forest: Lyndsie Bourgon, Cal Flynn, and David George Haskell. Each will perform an open-mic style monologue followed by a Q & A  with series host, Pam Rocker. The hour-long Imagine On Air event starts at 7:00 p.m. MT (The pre-show starts at 6:50 p.m. MT.) The live-stream event is free – and if you RSVP, we'll send you a reminder on the day of the show, as well as our unique Digital Doggie Bag with a watch-on-demand link and bonus extras sparked by the conversations. (Thursday, June 9 @ 7 PM - 8 :15 PM MT. ONLINE).

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