Lanita Smith, Winner of the Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter Artist’s Discovery Program, Records With Don Was

Photo by Paul Zollo
From Left to Right: Don Was, Colbie Caillat, Lanita Smith – Photo by Paul Zollo

Memphis native Lanita Smith, the winner of this year’s Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter Artist’s Discovery Program, won $25,000 and new musical equipment as well as an upcoming appearance in September on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

But perhaps the coolest prize she won was the opportunity to record a four-song EP with legendary producer Don Was at the helm, assisted by none other than Grammy winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat.

Chosen from over 16,000 applicants, she was in the midst of realizing that dream last week at Henson recording studios in Hollywood (formerly A&M records), and American Songwriter sat in to listen.

Though the tracks are still unmixed and the backing vocals are yet to be recorded, Lanita’s lead vocal was mixed in with the soulful groove and sounded great. Everyone in the room smiled.

She has recorded four original songs, each with her soulful signature of smooth, passionate vocals and a clean R&B groove. The songs are “Listen To Your Heartbeat,” “Fearless,” “One Time Thing” and “I Love You.” To start the session, Was asked for the big speakers to be turned off and listened intently to each track with headphones. He then asked the engineer to make stems of the vocal tracks, so they could be separately mixed in with the background vocals and tracks.

To show off the beauty of her voice, he soloed that vocal track so only her vocal could be heard. “Miss [Diana] Ross always had a rule that you don’t solo her vocal,” said Was. “But listen to the sound of this. This is great singing.”

“Her voice is absolutely effortless,” said Colbie of Lanita’s soulful delivery, “She sounds like a soul singer who has done this for a lifetime. Those vocals are so smooth, so confident.”

“We’re making this record sound like that classic record you never heard in 1968,” said Was, “It can fit right in with those great Motown records.”

When asked how she felt about her great success, Lanita smiled a lot and softly said, “It’s a dream come true. Beyond that, really.”

“[This competition] has already opened so many doors for me,” she said, “Winning means I can continue to follow my dreams and show the world who I am as a musician. When I heard my name announced as the winner, I was filled with so many emotions. It felt like every thing that has happened in my life, all of the ups and downs, had led me to that exact moment.”

She was chosen as winner after the five finalists performed live at on Friday, March 6th at The Troubadour in Hollywood. Following an opening performance by previous Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter winners (Josh Doyle, Jeff Campbell, Tess Henley), each of the finalists performed live in front of the audience and judges. Colbie also treated the crowd to a special live set as judge Don Was deliberated, and ultimately, named Smith the winner.

“All of the finalists this year were extremely talented and unique,” said Was. “What really impressed me about Lanita was her ability to take control of the stage. She had everyone in the room enraptured with her soulful songs and emotional delivery. I’m thankful to Guitar Center for supporting the arts with programs like Singer-Songwriter that continuously unearth new talent and inspire musicians across the country.”

You can watch Lanita Smith’s winning performance here.