Leah Savant 'TheActivistArtist'
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Leah Savant 'TheActivistArtist'

Augusta, Georgia, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2008 | SELF

Augusta, Georgia, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2008
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"Fire2Feelings"

When she steps up to the microphone, the crowded coffee shop goes quiet. There’s a mixture of fans, friends and strangers, but even those who don’t know her want to hear what she has to say. She glances at the audience over large, circular sunglasses, her “We Are All Human” T-shirt peeking from the opening of a cranberry blazer. She delivers each note with a breathy uniqueness, showing off samplings of her own musical influences while taking listeners down a road paved in soul and then bringing them up the other side like a bulldozer cloaked in power ballads and hip hop.

She is TheActivistArtist, and she is living in her own skin and loving every minute.

Long before Leah Smith developed this seasoned, demanding performance presence, she was a little girl in a talent show, swaying side to side as she belted out Wilson Phillips from her elementary school’s stage. Then it was a recording booth at Six Flags when she was around nine. People stopped to listen as she sang Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Since then, it’s kind of hard not to notice her. After moving to Sardis in the fourth grade, Leah found herself a loner, a biracial girl in a new school with no friends. In the afternoons, she’d come home and put together jigsaw puzzles. “I’d have a Cheerwine soda and a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, and I would act out dialogue I created in my mind. I wasn’t talking to myself, but creating characters, and they talked to each other.” She lets out a hearty laugh at the memory. “That does sound crazy. But it’s what I did, and I always had music blaring, always Mariah Carey. That was my sanctuary.”

Leah Smith was a graduate of the Burke County High School Class of 2004.
Leah Smith was a graduate of the Burke County High School Class of 2004.

While music remained a happy place for her, joining the chorus in middle school and continuing as she made the transition to high school, teachers began to see the creative energy in their student — and one wasn’t even her teacher.

“Barbra Stone, Ms. Chalk at the time, she doesn’t get the credit she deserves,” Leah says, recalling how the English teacher was the one who formed the high school’s creative writing and poetry clubs. “She organized groups that really helped me. She pushed me and I was never her student. She just knew I was a creative. She saw something in me, and she tried to pull that out. She really helped me foster a sense of creativity and a liberal arts mind.”

Stone is also credited with Leah’s realization of her love for writing. “She created an environment where I could grow. She would read over my stuff and give me notes and feedback. I think she was misunderstood, too, and that maybe she saw a lot of herself in me. We both have strong personalities, are both women of color. We are not always palatable. Ms. Stone encouraged me to develop a strong sense of self and a nonconformist type personality where I didn’t feel like I had to be a certain way. I could just be who I am.”

The names of other BCHS teachers who influenced Leah roll off her tongue like a track list of all the best songs, each with a different story, each one conjuring memories tucked in a nearby file.

There’s Jean Williams Barefield, whose “come to Jesus” meeting with a talkative teenaged Leah resulted in a stare down followed by tears and a hug. “After that, we were inseparable. She was very open to ideas, and when it came to Kaleidoscope, she used some of my ideas, and that’s a real boost for someone. She let us be creative and break the mold.”

Ann Ennis put Leah in her first play, and art teacher Sherri Barajas taught her that she could create in other ways. “I paint now, and many of the techniques I use are things I learned from Mrs. Barajas.”

The list goes on.

Pam Mallard. Linda Dunaway. Renee Hickman. Karen Reeves.

“They all helped foster my creative edge,” Leah says. “They got it. They never tried to change me. They really understood who I was. Who I am.”

In college, Leah’s love for writing began to manifest itself into music, and though she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English/creative writing, she took a different route when choosing a career. “I was hellbent on climbing the corporate ladder,” she says, wincing as the words seem to inflict pain. “Then I realized I was dreaming someone else’s dream. I read this book titled ‘Chase the Lion’ and there’s a part that says if your dream does not require divine intervention, then that’s not your dream. I realized you can’t just put an end date on who you are. I’d made a conscious decision to not write, to not pursue music, but I was wearing every hat except for the one that I was supposed to wear.”

Enter TheActivistArtist and Leah’s reemergence into the world of artistry.

The stage name is no persona; it’s all her beliefs umbrellaed under a catchy noun that grew from her desire for advocacy. “I think in witnessing instances of injustice and being sensitive to them, I began to see that I have an advocate’s heart and that I don’t need to run from it; I need to embrace it, but that was challenging for me to accept. It can be offensive to people, and I didn’t want to be offensive. But, I have to stand on the right side of justice, no matter who or for what it’s against.”

With this platform, Leah created her first album, Fire2Feelings, that not only was an opportunity for her to be more honest with herself but to speak up and out about heartbreak, mental illness and the stages of grief a person goes through. As a solo artist, she’s recently served as the featured performer at Do You Lyric Lounge in East Atlanta and will go on tour next month in New Jersey for The Fragile Retreat. Joined by her band Major Sound, she opened for Paisley Gordon (who once performed with James Brown) at Augusta University’s Maxwell Theatre, and she along with producer A’men Hudson are working on a new album entitled “Enigma.”

“When it comes to life, it’s both long and short at the same time,” Leah says, before adding she’s glad to be operating in her “gift” vein again. “Your gifts make room for you, and they don’t add sorrow. I just want to be able to like who looks back at me in the mirror. I want to be able to sleep at night, and I want to do what makes breathing easier.” - The True Citizen


"‘The Catacomb and Chrysalis of Poetry’ at Westobou has Augusta University roots"

Known by the stage name TheActivistArtist, Smith graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Augusta University in 2014. She has released two collections of poetry, Milledgeville Uncensored and (…Pleroma), as well as a full-length album called Fire2Feelings.

Woman standing by tree.
Poet Leah Smith is known by the stage name, TheActivistArtist.
When Smith reads her poetry, she commands the audience’s attention with her powerful words.

“It’s funny. I don’t like to be in crowds, but I love people,” Smith said. “So, I love to read my poetry because I believe, in this existence, we are all just feeling our way through life and we are just trying to do what makes breathing easier.”

Over the years, Smith has learned that sharing her poetry with others has a tremendous impact on the audience, as well as herself.

“We have the power to change people’s lives,” Smith said. “It’s in a word. It’s in a smile. It’s just in holding the door open for someone. People want to be heard. People want to be understood and people want to know that they are not alone. This is one way I connect with people.”

When she reads her poetry, Smith lets an audience see her deepest emotions, ranging from tremendous love to devastating pain.

“I think I am a metaphysical poet in essence,” she said. “I also like to weave in elements of Christianity. Those are my influences, but I also talk about real world experience. I speak from the perspective of a black woman who has lived a life.”

The bond of poetry
Smith also has connections with many of the poets who will perform at the Westobou event, including Harris-Parker and Calvin W. Pennywell Jr., who graduated from Augusta University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

“I was in school at Augusta University from 2010 to 2014 and I was a non-traditional student, as was Calvin. We actually graduated the same year,” Smith said. “Anna (Harris-Parker) was our professor and it was her very first year here. So, the graduating class of 2014 was a very special class. There was a real bond there.”

Smith also likes the fact that this Westobou event supports all forms of poetry, not just the popular form of spoken word poetry.

“I think having this many people from Augusta University will shed light on poetry that is written for the page because I think that gets lost in the spoken word community,” Smith said. “I’m not knocking spoken word at all. It can be powerful. But you’ve got a lot of poets who are seriously talented on paper, but maybe don’t feel comfortable with the performance aspect.”

After all, spoken word performances can be a little intimidating, she said.

“Spoken word artists are intense,” Smith said, laughing. “So, can you imagine being an introverted person who writes poetry and likes to go read being surrounded by all of this intense energy? That can scare poets away.”

The Catacomb and Chrysalis of Poetry event will encourage writers to share their poems in a welcoming atmosphere, Smith said.

“I hope doing this will establish a platform for creative writers here at the university,” Smith said. “People who want to come out and read their works and show who they are and show why what they do has value. Because it absolutely does have value.” - JagWire


"Meet Leah Savant 'TheAvtivistArtist'"

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Savant “TheActivistArtist”.

Leah, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I like to think that I’ve always been singing. My father was a soul singer and used to play with The Tams and The Backstabbers. As a result, I was exposed to soul music at a young age. However, my mother “discovered” my voice when I was in the second grade. After that, it was a wrap. She used to make me sit on the kitchen counter and sing Hero by Mariah Carey or Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. My first public performance was for a school crossing guard’s funeral; I sang Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler– I ran off stage crying.

The next year I entered the school talent show and sang You’re in Love by Wilson Phillips. I stayed on stage the whole time. Soon I was singing in church. I suppose my mother knew I needed to work on my stage presence. She enrolled me in modeling school and had me competing in oratoricle competitions. I began winning; a lot.

I recorded my first song in Atlanta at age 12 and by the time I was in high school, I perfected songs by Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu and started competing for real money.

Throughout high school, I began to really focus on writing. I recorded original songs– they were always a little too deep for a 14-year-old to write, but I had experienced a lot of trauma at a young age. This led to an adult-like awareness in my writing with which producers enjoyed working,

After graduating high school, I found myself stuck. I married a man at 19 and moved on to a military base. A combative relationship, we divorced nine months later. That’s when it happened. Laying on our bed on New Years Day of 2005, I heard a voice tell me to head north. And so I did. I hitched a ride on an 18 wheeler with one suitcase and my keyboard. I rented a room over an ice cream shop in Jersey City, NJ with three guys. From that point forward, I was grinding.

I responded to audition ads in Backstage Magazine, finding myself in sketchy rooms in Harlem and the Bronx. One of my roommates introduced me to a young lady who, in turn, introduced me to my first producer, Kazha Hornsby. He taught me how to attack a song vocally and keep listeners coming back. Then, while working in Starbucks, I met producer Shane Hoosong and Reggae artist Elly Ess who quickly took me under their wings and allowed me the creative freedom to write and record my first album. During this time, I also did background work for other artists and wrote music for off-Broadway shows.

Eventually, I left the professional music scene and served as a worship leader for ten years between NJ and GA.

Fast forward and I’m back in Georgia with a degree in English Creative Writing and working with a dope producer, A’major. I released my first full-length album, Fire2Feelings in December 2018. I have a new book (Valediction) and EP (Salutation) coming out at the top of the year. There are plenty of surprises in store in the coming year. I’ll be writing for other artists, playing more shows, releasing more music, etc. Keep your eyes on me.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Perhaps the most difficult part of my journey is learning that all is fair in business. I think sometimes creatives come together and the vibe drives us, however. Eventually, someone becomes more business savvy and the relationship that was once about creating and good vibes becomes business. I learned this the hard way. These days I have a much stronger business acumen. I lead with that.

I heard “no” a lot. Rejection and disappointment broke me for a while. I was never skinny enough or sexy enough. My voice was too raspy and for a while, light and airy voices were dominating the airwaves.

Personally, I’ve been married twice and have two daughter’s from my second marriage. I changed careers after 13 years only to realize that I owe it to myself and my girls to do what makes breathing easier for me and that’s creating; writing, singing, producing, performing.

This is how I serve myself and my daughters. I embrace being a fluffy woman with a contralto voice. I love that I make music everyone can listen to and appreciate that I’ve made it easy for others to relate to me.

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
Musically, my influences are rooted in the musical styling of Marvin Gaye, Brandy, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Diamond Rio, and Mariah Carey. All of these singers/groups understood dynamics and that sometimes less is more. Their attention to vocal arranging is unparalleled. They also know how to just sing a song and allow their listeners to journey with them.

When I sing, I like to take my listeners on a voyage. I believe whole-heartedly in the concept album and am bringing it back. I describe my sound as afrofuturistic R&B. I don’t shy away from my lower vocal register. It’s what sets me apart, that and it’s raspiness.

My live shows are a range of emotions. I promise audiences that they will laugh, turn up, contemplate, and have a spiritual experience.

My songwriting style is one that is honest but still offers hope. I never want to be the soundtrack to someone’s suicide. I think everyone should feel her/his feelings fully but don’t stay there. Get up!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The best thing that ever happened to me was being burned in the industry. It taught me how to treat people well and how to build a team. It also made me be a better business owner.

Having a tribe (I call my Trybe Change Agents) is necessary. My Tribe consists of people in and out of the industry. They keep it real with me and show me love. I, in turn, go hard for them. - Voyage Atl


Discography

The Fire2Feelings Album

  1. Journey to the center of the Universe
  2. Blindsided 2.0
  3. Lying King: Chopped & Screwed
  4. 80's Heartbreak
  5. The Shift
  6. Get Up (FEAT. Arman Hudson)
  7. Fire 2 Feelings
  8. Power (feat. Jvon Lawrence)
  9. Release (FEAT. Sean Boler)


Change My Mind (single) Leah Smith

The Feel Good Tape (Arman Hudson)
  • Do Good (feature)

Photos

Bio

80s love in the year 2020. Afrofuturist, Leah Savant, is about spreading love and light in real time. Let her take you on a Journey to the Center of the Universe. 

Band Members