Charleston-based jazz sweetie Latoya Smith is preparing herself for the biggest move of her life. The 18-year-old jazz vocalist traveled to New York City with Quentin Baxter and several other Charleston jazz greats last January to represent the Charleston Jazz Initiative at a conference. She returns to New York this month to start classes at the New School for Contemporary Arts in Manhattan. Her heroes Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and John Coltrane all built their careers in the Big Apple, and Smith hopes to do the same.

Originally from Cross, S.C., Smith has performed extensively in Charleston. She says leaving the Holy City is extremely difficult, but she believes New York is the best place to live her dreams. “I chose New York because of the caliber of academics. The teachers at this jazz school have experience playing with legendary, class-act musicians. I’m talking cats like Coltrane,” says Smith.

Smith is extremely thankful for the Charleston outlets that helped shape her career, including the Jazz Initiative. “The Initiative builds bonds through the music and the history of the music – bonds that are strong,” says Smith. “The Initiative has blessed me with great opportunities to grow and bless others.”

The New School will offer Smith a chance to fully immerse herself in the music that she learned to love in Charleston. “My only aspiration is to reach a level of mastery in growth as a vessel of the music,” says Smith. She also admits that her transition will be a tough one. “But I realize that I am going to miss the grits, cornbread, and my family way too much.”

Smith’s first album, Divertimento, drops soon, but she refuses to sit back and bask in her remarkable achievements. “I’m ready to be surrounded by more people who love what they do … the beat goes on.” –Ian Wheeler