Kendra Smith, a student involved in JAG-South Carolina can now add winner of the Stellar Award to her list of accomplishments. She received the award last weekend for Youth Project of the Year at the 30th Annual Stellar Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada. The awards ceremony is held annually. The Stellar Awards is the premier gospel event, which showcases and honors African – American artists.
Kendra found out about JAG through friends and peers at school after, “I had heard so much about what JAG could do and had done for students through high school and carried with them through life.” “I wanted to participate in JAG to meet new people and to open up because I was so shy. I really wanted to consider an activity that did exactly that” Kendra said. She says JAG helped her learn to "stay focused and never miss an opportunity." Kendra feels that JAG taught her about life and how to better oneself. “Ms. Nikki Jett, who is my JAG Specialist, is a very important part of not only my high school career but in life.” Kendra felt like Ms. Jett not only saw her students as "students" but as family. “She has never hesitated to reach out and help whenever myself or my peers needed it.”
The Stellar award ceremony allowed Kendra to share this amazing weekend in gospel music with some of the genre’s stars including Pastor Shirley Caesar, Tasha Cobbs, Donald Lawrence, VaShawn Mitchell and members of Destiny’s Child. Kendra has an album, “Something New,” and the album was the reason she won the award.
“It was on the spot. When they first called my name, I just sat there, and I was looking,” Smith said. “And my dad was like ‘that’s you.” On the inside I was jumping and screaming. On the inside I was excited.” Kendra is an 18-year-old South Florence High School senior. She confessed said she had no clue she was going to win the award. The award show contacted her to let her know that she had made it into the top four nominees.
Smith needed to be prepared to give a 20-second speech in case she won. “I gave a speech and I was so nervous because I’m so shy,” she said. “And I had to stand in front of hundreds of people and give a speech. But I didn’t stutter. I was like, ‘Thank you God.’”
Wanda Adams is Kendra’s publicist, said since Kendra won the award offers are flooding in for her to make appearances at several conferences and conventions. At this point she is scheduled to perform at the North Carolina Gospel Announcers’ Guild in May. “This has launched her into a new platform.” Adams said. “Her music will be played, and she will make some appearances in France. This has launched her no longer as a local star; now Kendra Smith has become a national and international recording artist at the age of 18.”
Kendra says, “I started singing in church. My dad was a musician in church,” Smith said. “At first, nobody knew I could sing until one day my dad was playing, and I started singing and he was like , ‘Oh, girl you can sing.” Smith recorded “Something New” when she was 16 and 17 and it was released in 2014. The album contains 10 songs including two singles, “Deep Down” and “I Praise You.” Smith said she has loved to sing since she first learned to talk. She co-wrote a number of the songs on “Something New” and said she plans to begin writing more.
For Kendra, music is in her blood. Her father plays instruments, her great-grandmother was a singer and she even had an aunt who was part of the popular New Jersey Mass Choir. Kendra’s father owns a record label in Florence and Charlotte called Devine Records Management LLC in addition to the Devine Glory Magazine.
When she attended the Stellar Awards, Erica Campbell from the gospel duo Mary Mary taught Kendra a lesson that she said stuck with her. Campbell said that when she was in high school; one of her teachers asked her why she wouldn’t choose to perform rock and roll music instead of gospel because it generated more money. “And she said one thing, ‘Does rock and roll music save souls? ’” Smith said. “Gospel music changes lives. Other music, it makes you feel good or makes you feel a type of way, but gospel music, it can change your life. It actually saves people, so I think I’ll keep doing gospel music. And that’s my roots, too.”