Walsall teen Jorja Smith doing things her way for now
She's in remarkably good company. Sensitive Walsall teenager Jorja Smith is following in the footsteps of Plan B, Razorlight, The Thrills, Skrillex and Birmingham's Laura Mvula.
Those established artists all featured prominently in the BBC's annual Sound Of poll and went on to become major stars.
Indeed, there's a direct connection between Jorja and Skrillex – they gave her a shout out when her debut single, Blue Lights, racked up 100,000 plays in its first week. And so did Drake. And so did Stormzy.
Jorja, 19, was working at Starbucks a year ago when she posted Blue Lights. It reflected on her childhood in Walsall and referenced the number 4 bus she caught each day.
See Jorja's music video for Where Did I Go here:
She was a chorister at school and wrote her first song at the age of 11. Her father was in a band called Second Naicha, and she studied A-level music and learned about classical composers.
Her father and mother were both influential. "Both my parents have been big influences on me wanting to do music," she said. "My mum's always been, 'just do it. Just sing'. I did classical singing at school. I did exams in that. I'd sing soprano and we'd sing in German, we'd do Schubert for my pieces, in Latin, French…I really enjoyed that.
"I kind of miss it. I like putting it in my music. In Imperfect Circle, that whole ending, I love making lots of high noise."
Her first memories, however, were of pop: "I remember I got the Atomic Kitten CD. There's always been music in my house growing up. In the kitchen there's a speaker and we'd always have my mum's iPod in it – she never makes food without listening to music. And I used to watch Top of the Pops with my dad."
The singer doesn't just create her own music – she's also responsible for her own artwork and filmed a video for her single Where Did I Go? on the staircase of her aunt's house. Her soulful music wowed a group of respected critics and earned her fourth place in the BBC Sound of 2017 poll, which was won by Ray BLK.
The Sound Of poll is one of the most important indicators of new talent. Past winners have included Jack Garratt (2016), Years & Years (2015), Sam Smith (2014), Michael Kiwanuka (2012), Jessie J (2011), Ellie Goulding (2010), Adele (2008) and Keane (2004).
And it's not just the winners either. Other big names found themselves on the podium, like Jorja, without taking the top spot. Franz Ferdinand, Florence & The Machine, The Feeling, James Blake and James Bay are among the former finalists.
And though she's been offered record deals, she's decided to go it alone and remain independent.
Jorja has been likened to Lauryn Hill and Prince and has regularly featured on 1Xtra and Radio 1.
Jorja has earned praise from established artists like Drake as well as Dizzee Rascal, who she sampled. "He liked it. He put a video up on Instagram of him in his car, vibing to the song, and when his bit came on at the end he was smiling. That's really cool."
The singer plans to work hard in 2017, writing and playing live. She'll continue to take care of her own interests, avoiding big record deals for now.
"I'm happy. It's going good right now so I'm just going to keep going with what's happening."
By Andy Richardson
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