Music

On a hit podcast, a music insider explores the ‘underwritten history’ of Black women in pop

Danyel Smith has a rule — or at least she used to — about her bedroom: “No work shall take place in here,” she says. “This is the serene area.”

Yet when Smith, a veteran music journalist who’s served as editor in chief of Vibe and Billboard, began recording her podcast “Black Girl Songbook” at home in the early days of the pandemic, her producers quickly decided that the acoustics at her dining table weren’t cutting it. “So then I tried the bedroom and they were like, ‘Oh my God, it sounds so good!’ Now I have a mike and all the engineering doodads in here.” She laughs. “We make it work.”

“Black Girl Songbook,” whose second season premiered on Wednesday via The Ringer and Spotify, exudes the intimacy of its location. A loving celebration of “the underwritten history of Black women in music,” as Smith puts it, the podcast grew out of her work on a book set for release in February 2022 titled “Shine Bright.” Season 1 featured the host in conversation with artists such as H.E.R. and Estelle but also in a kind of conversation with herself as she recounted her personal experiences as both a fan and an industry insider.

Smith delivers her tales — about the first time she met Whitney Houston, for instance, or her belief that Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” is the greatest diss record of all time — with a careful rhythm and confiding tone that draw you close, as though a friend is imparting some precious information; the effect humanizes her subjects even as Smith seeks to give their artistry the serious consideration she says they’re overdue.

Growing up reading profiles of rock stars in Rolling Stone and GQ, she felt she got to know the likes of Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. “But it hasn’t been like that so much for Black women,” she adds. “I’m trying to give Black stories that kind of detail.”

Ahead on Season 2, which launched with an episode on the late Aaliyah, she wants to feature more music in the show — because she’s on Spotify, she can play complete tracks — and to spotlight artists “who don’t read as super-popular but in reality have tribes of super-fans.” She also plans to tell more juicy first-person stories about her interactions with stars and the machinery that surrounds them.

“We’re trained as journalists not to step to the front,” Smith says. “The saying is ‘Save it for the memoir.’ Well, I saved it, and it is jam-packed.”

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