While studying to become a music teacher, Abbey Smith had a vision. “It’s a little crazy to share this, it’s so personal,” she said hesitantly. “But I had this feeling, like a valve opening in my chest and sucking in that air.” She takes a huge breath. “And then it got very dark, and I was looking down as if from beyond [myself] to that little person on stage, and I felt… free.
When Smith sings of his mother’s suicide on his dazzling debut album, the rawness of his grief registers with devastating force. Since Amy Winehouse, there has been no voice like this – a giant, moving ship that swells in pain and glistens with magnificent vulnerability. Smith, who performs as Yebba, has the music industry at his feet.
The 26-year-old American has always dreamed of becoming a backing vocalist, an endearing and humble dream for a girl with a voice that marked her from the start in the spotlight. Every Sunday throughout her childhood in West Memphis, Arkansas, her father, a Christian preacher, took her to sing in his church while, back home, he introduced her and her brother to music. Aretha Franklin and the Clark Sisters. When Abbey was 12, her father appointed her pastor of the church worship service, a role that saw her organize music for the Sunday service, choose songs, conduct choir rehearsals and – although still a child – to happily chair a group of 35-year-old men.
The experience gave him the skills and confidence to start writing and performing his own songs. In 2016, after clips of her singing on Instagram received praise from influential industry figures such as producer Timbaland and rapper Missy Elliott, she got her first hiatus supporting Chance the Rapper on Saturday Night Live. His dizzying falsetto riffs made him turn, in the middle of the song, in stunned awe.
Determined to seize the opportunity, Smith dropped out of Nashville University, where she was studying with the intention of becoming a teacher, like her mother, who taught physics at her school. Instead, she moved to New York City and in September, at an intimate concert in the city, she performed her first song, My Mind, a furious ballad about unfaithful love, which sees her triggering pain. grief with a sure level of vocal precision. to bring out the goose bumps. His dream was starting to come true.
Then, just three weeks later, her mother committed suicide, leaving Smith so gripped with rage, grief and guilt that she temporarily lost her faith. When she found him, she adopted the stage name Yebba – “Abbey” spelled backwards, a loving nickname her mother had used – and the lyrics of My Mind (“I’m about to lose head, how could you do this to me? ”) took on a sad new meaning. She asked fans who downloaded the song for free to donate to mental health charity, Mind.