While theatre is on pause, Britton Smith is pursuing freedom through his music with Britton & The Sting.
At the beginning of the song "Drop," Smith exclaims, “If you’re heavy, get light now, now, now, now; this is your chance now, now, now.” It feels like the perfect distillation of the band’s manifesto.
Britton & The Sting is more than a funk liberation band, it’s a collective of artists who provide an intergalactic, Afrofuturistic sanctuary of healing whenever and wherever they take the stage. Smith, as the lead singer, has a magnetic stage presence that is rooted in vulnerability. Embracing his own authenticity encourages the audience to express the most unapologetic version of themselves as well. It's an environment that has led to strangers dancing together in fellowship, spontaneous three-part harmonies breaking out, and the impromptu passing of the metaphorical plate as if it was a Sunday morning church service.
The band has been providing medicinal hope since it was founded in 2018. “I’ve always written music,” says Smith. “I had a moment one night in a cab where the taxi driver spoke a prophetic word over my life and told me to start a band. It was a wild and holy moment. I knew who to call and named us 'The Sting.'”
The Sting includes Josh Dawson (music director/keys), Josh Roberts (drums), Tiffany Mann (background vocals), Amber Iman (background vocals), Aisha Jackson (background vocals), C Stones (background vocals), Eli Menezes (guitar), Daniel Winshall (Bass), and “a number of Tribe mates who attend our shows, pray for the journey, and rock with us always in full participation. They, too, are The Sting.”
Since then, the band has played various venues around New York City, including Nublu (which resulted in a Live at Nublu EP) and a residency at Rockwood Musical Hall. The pandemic hasn’t slowed them down, as they participated in the The Blacksmith’s Juneteenth Jubiliee, earned a nod as a standout entry for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest, and are currently at work on a full-length album called The Realness Project.
Smith has been seen on Broadway in Be More Chill, Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, and After Midnight. He is also a co-founder and President of Broadway Advocacy Coalition, an organization launched in 2016 that focuses on dismantling racism through collaborations at the intersection of artistry and law.
Get to know Smith more in the Q&A below.
What project(s) are you working on currently?
I'm working on a full-length album with my band Britton & The Sting. We’re working primarily at a studio in Los Angeles. Being that we all live in New York, we found the opportunity during quarantine to work on the project without the obligation of that New York hustle pulling us into other webs of opportunity. This project has been my medicine, my peace, and my mirror. I’m experiencing a bravery that I’ve never had before.
Listen to Britton & The Sting’s latest single, "Lady Wisdom," here. "Lady Wisdom" is also the first to drop in the band’s FELLOWSHIP series, a video project of four songs, live in Los Angeles. Watch and follow on YouTube.
Where are you finding inspiration?
I’m finding inspiration in the amplification of BLACKNESS. Inspired by my ancestry, my family, the lineage of Black creativity and resilience, I’m finding new depth in what I want to say. This is also how I’m holding on. I’m so inspired by the many advocates for change that are showing up bravely. I’m inspired by the willing.
How has your artistic credo evolved in the past year?
I’m finding courage in a new way and this courage is allowing the music to expand. I’m also aware more than ever of how afraid I’ve been and where those fears are rooted. I’m so hungry for evolution but the hard part is surrendering to the time evolution takes. I want to be on the moon NOW, but I’ve only now discovered that I have the rocket ship. I need to be patient with the FUEL of it all and be smart about what kind of fuel my unique journey needs.
What perspective do you bring to the artistic landscape?
I’m a queer Black church boy from the South. Music found me first. It was my escape from so much. NOW, I’m in relationship with music in a way that is no longer just for me but for the breaking down of the chains that binds us all from living freely and authentically. This is my ministry. My music is about liberation. I create and build with my band, music that acts as a weapon to both my own internal changes and the chains that society has bestowed. Freedom is the flavor to every sauce. I’m certain that Black people are natural storytellers so I’m persistent in making as much space as I can for myself and other Black creatives.
How do you navigate working in a field where you are constantly subject to critique?
I’m watched for being big. I’m watched for being Black. I’m watched for being loud. I’m watched for being queer. I’m watched for being outspoken. My tool for navigation is an internal reminder to “BE MYSELF”. I use this tool to anchor me back to knowing that whenever watched, critiqued, judged, or even celebrated—I’m proud that I was authentic.
How do cultivate joy in your life when you’re not creating?
I’m always creating. My mind doesn’t allow me NOT to. I continue to dream, imagine, create, hum, speculate, or plot. One of my spirit guides is “JoyBoy.” Joy is my weapon in this lifetime and when I’m not making music or acting, it continues to vibrate strength and gratitude into my life. With that said, I’ve experienced a lot of sadness, loneliness, and depression because my body is so used to moving and gaining and the hustle of New York. I’m cultivating joy in the reminder of my humanity. My friends and my tribe remind me that being sad and down is fine—visit sadness’ house, don’t move in.
What do you want to bring to theatre when it returns?
I am determined to bring in a contagious willingness to pursue and gain freedom from MYSELF. I refuse to return to theatrical spaces with chains on. I grew to love and live with so many chains that in this moment I’ve been blessed to acknowledge. Yes, I want industry change and I spend a lot of time thinking of strategies, partnerships and advocacy work to promote the change I seek. But the change I want the most is from within! Ima bring freedom with me.
Follow Britton & The Sting and Smith on Instagram.