Danyel Smith Talks Importance of Black Women In Pop In New Book, 'Shine Bright'

By Namon Eugene | August 8, 2022

Cover of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop PHOTO COURTESY OF RANDOM HOUSE PUBLISHING GROUP
Cover of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop PHOTO COURTESY OF RANDOM HOUSE PUBLISHING GROUP

On the release day of her new book Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop (released April 19 via Roc Lit 101), esteemed journalist and novelist Danyel Smith (@danamo) said to her followers on Instagram, “When things are wild, Ell and I always go to a diner.”

For the iconic music journalist, dining with her husband (equally iconic music journalist Elliott Wilson) is a way to keep her mind in check.

Black women pop stars also have their own techniques, as Smith described while talking music and managing one’s health and wellness.

How do you think the state of these pop stars’ mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health affects their careers?

I think our health shows up in everything we do. I think we would like to think that it doesn’t, but it really does. Music is just a form of processing emotions for so many people, and I think particularly for Black women.

You have the rhythm and blues—blues is just a synonym for sadness, trauma and depression. So it’s about people singing out those things to share emotion, to try to heal, to communicate.

Danyel Smith PHOTO BY JENNIFER JOHNSON
Danyel Smith PHOTO BY JENNIFER JOHNSON

Have you seen in your relationships with Black women in music any ways in which they practice self-care or wellness?

I think every Black woman, if she’s lucky, has ways in which she manages those kinds of things. If I’ve seen thousands of Black women managing their health as they work as pop stars, then I’ve seen a thousand different ways—anything from maintaining a quiet space to having one’s favorite kinds of flowers sent to their dressing room. There are infinite ways Black women in pop manage their wellness.

Black women in pop have healed, taught and empowered me more than any male or non-Black pop star. Reading the introduction of Shine Bright, this seems true for you too. Why do you think that is?

I think music in general can be healing, but I also think there’s just so much care, precision and magic in the vocals of many Black women singers that it’s a salve on our souls. There’s a certain empathy in the vocals of many Black women vocalists, and I think we respond to that.

Are there physical ways you’ve discovered to ground yourself when you need a break?

Something that brings me the most peace and joy is probably riding my bike. I live in Southern California and we’re blessed to have a lot of great bike paths. Riding really brings the essence of freedom. I’m in the fresh air, and it brings me a lot of peace and balance.

And you’re outside on a real bike, not a Peloton!

I am outside on a real bike, yes. [laughs]

Do you listen to any music while you’re cycling?

Not really, because I work in music. So sometimes, for me, peace can be the absence of music, or peace can be instrumental music. So sometimes I listen to music, but a lot of times, especially if I’m riding my bike, I like to hear what’s going on and experience the world.

Photography by: Cover courtesy of Random House Publishing Group; Smith photo by Jennifer Johnson