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Q Smith Learned About the Power of Voice from Gladys Knight
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Friday, January 26, 2024
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Broadway star Q. Smith learned from Gladys Knight what they did not teach her in school.

“I learned the power of voice. I learned from her that a voice is a muscle,” said Smith, who performed with the legendary singer and Rita Coolidge while touring with “Smokey Joe’s Café.” “Even when she was not feeling her best, her voice was a powerhouse, the same every single night, because of muscle memory. She taught that it’s a muscle and it gets tired and you have to rest it like you do other muscles. So, before I have a show, I’ll take a melatonin and go to bed early, rest my body. And I’ll drink lots and lots of liquids.”

Smith will perform at the Sun Valley Opera and Broadway’s Diva Party and Concert at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, at The Argyros. The Diva Party will include hearty hors d’oeuvres catered by Silver Fox Catering and the Concert will follow.

“I’ll be performing the soundtrack of my life in two acts—a little gospel, a little ‘60s, a lot of Broadway…” she said.

That soundtrack revolves around a robust musical theater career that includes originating the role of Hannah in the Tony Award-winning musical “Come from Away” and 11 tours with “Smokey Joe’s Café.” She performed with Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center in “Abyssinia: A Gospel Celebration” and she sang in “Showboat” in concert at Carnegie Hall.

She was the first African-American to have a leading role in “Mary Poppins,” and she played Aretha Franklin in the Broadway show “A Night with Janis Joplin.” She was a guest soloist for Hilary Clinton’s Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards and a guest soloist at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.

Smith grew up as Quiana in Omaha, Neb., but switched to Ms. Q when kids at the Omaha, Neb., day care where she taught theater and dance as a 16-year-old couldn’t pronounce her name. She cut her teeth taking part in the Christmas and Easter plays her mother and grandmother, both professional playwrights, wrote for their church.

“I got to high school and began acting in musicals and I said, ‘You can actually get a degree in musical theater?! Sign me up!!!’ she recounted. “Les Miz came through town when I was in 11th grade. It was the first musical soundtrack I’d ever had on tape, then disc, and I loved it so much that I talked my parents into taking me to the theater. Thank God they did because it changed my life.

“It was like a child reading their favorite book when they open it and it comes to life. It changed my life in a way that it helped me believe and continue to believe that dreams can come true,” added Smith, who went on to perform in the first revival of “Les Miserables.”

To tour with Gladys Knight was a dream.

“I was so young and she’s a legend. And she’s a legend for a reason. I covered her for one of her songs, ‘Kansas City’ and she was kind—one of the hardest working professionals I’ve met. She almost named ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ ‘Midnight Train to Houston,’ but Georgia just had a better ring to it.”

“A Night with Janis Joplin” was a beast of a show, Smith said.

“All you do is sing and dance, sing and dance. We did not have understudies so we had to go on no matter what. So, I fell back on Glady’s admonition to rest and rest, water and water. I was raised in the church but I did not really grow up singing gospel so this helped me learn more about the gospel sound.”

Smith played Miss Andrew, a major character in the book “Mary Poppins” in “Mary Poppins on Tour.”

“The Broadway musical was the best of the book and the best of the movie put together. Miss Andrew is all over the place in the book so it was the role of a lifetime. Women of color typically don’t play a role like that in London stage so I felt I really had to prove myself.”

Performing with Marsalis and as guest soloist for Hilary Clinton’s Awards was special. But even more special was representing her state of Nebraska at the Inaugural Ceremony for Barack Obama.

“I was happy to be there, and my father was there, and I saw him watching this black man become the next president. To share that moment with my Dad, to watch the president be inaugurated, is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Smith and her husband, who live in New York, now have a 3-year-old son in their lives, which keeps them busy.

She’s also been developing a curriculum entitled Rehabilitative and Restorative Art Conditioning, which uses the arts to help children with behavioral problems and learning disabilities. She would like to build a performing arts school integrated with the juvenile system.

“I also just started a new business coaching actors and helping people with public speaking. And, of course, I’m trying to do more concerts. I am looking forward to coming to Idaho and performing there!”

IF YOU GO…

Q. Smith, who originated the role of Hannah in the seven-time Tony-nominated “Come From Away” will perform at a Diva Party and Concert at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, at The Argyros.

The Sun Valley Opera and Broadway will throw the Diva Party from 6 to 7 p.m. featuring substantial hors d’oeuvres and a full bar with French wines and top-shelf libations. The concert that follows will include selections from musical theater, the American Songbook and more, accompanied by pianist Sean Rogers.

Diva tickets are available for $225 in advance only at https://www.sunvalleyopera.com/ or by calling 208-726-0991. Diva tickets include seating at bistro tables, and they must be purchased by Jan 29. Concert-only tickets are available for $100 in advance and at the door (cash only) and include seating in the tiers.

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