'Dust Off Your Wings': Tiny Desk Contestant Britton Smith On Pride And Potential : All Songs Considered Smith entered the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest with his band Britton & The Sting. He says "Blackstronauts" is about finding joy: "I want us all to put on our freedom suits and fly together," he says.
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'Dust Off Your Wings': Tiny Desk Contestant Britton Smith On Pride And Potential

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'Dust Off Your Wings': Tiny Desk Contestant Britton Smith On Pride And Potential

'Dust Off Your Wings': Tiny Desk Contestant Britton Smith On Pride And Potential

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Imagine being able to lay down your burdens and fly away from Earth. Doesn't that sound nice right about now, traveling to a place of harmony, a place where discrimination is left behind? That's the theme of the song "Blackstronauts" by Britton and The Sting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTRONAUTS")

BRITTON AND THE STING: Let me see you lay your burden down. Are you going to fly to the moon with all that? Yeah. Let me see you lay your burden down. Down...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Britton Smith's song was chosen as a standout for this year's Tiny Desk contest, and he joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome.

BRITTON SMITH: Hey, Lulu. I'm so happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am so happy to have you. That song has just cheered me up, let me tell you (laughter).

SMITH: Yeah. Come on. Come on. Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about the song.

SMITH: Yeah. It's so nice to be able to, like, revisit this song and see what the power of music does. So I wrote this song about a year ago. So I was thinking about, what is the thing that I need to lay down to be able to fly to my most authentic, most full self? And I found out what that thing was. And this song is a reminder to continue to, like, get away from the noise of needing people to say, yeah, you're great. Just know that you were put on Earth for some reason. It's up for you to realize that power and fly with that and try your best to dust off your wings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTRONAUTS")

BRITTON AND THE STING: (Singing) Am I big enough? Am I strong enough? Am I wise enough? Am I brave enough? Am I good enough? Are you going to fly to the moon?

SMITH: I believe that if everybody, particularly Black people who are my folk, my family, my tribe - if we all were able to have a medicine pill like this song, to lay down our burdens, we would be all on the moon. And I believe that the moon, like, represents this, like, limitness place, a place of endless possibilities. And what does the world look like if everybody Black is free, liberated in a way that only at this moment looks like a place not on Earth?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTRONAUTS")

BRITTON AND THE STING: (Singing) Your mind is ready. It's ready to fly. If you're feeling heavy, I bet you know why.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's also, though, about your coming out story and your relationship with your mother.

SMITH: Yeah, a part of my affirmation is, you know, I grew up gay, Black in the South and in the church. And so they teach you in the church in the South to be so proud of your Blackness. However, there was this other thing, a part of me that was not treated with that same type of affirmation and pride. So I had a lot of shame and guilt and all these things that a gay, Black person growing up in church may feel in the South. And so my mom has gone through a long journey. But there have been moments where I feel I wish she would have had this song 20 years ago so that she could be more open in her ability to see me and my full self.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTRONAUTS")

BRITTON AND THE STING: (Singing) When I'm at the moon, will I have to leave? Will I be laughing and having fun? When I go up, will I mess it up? When I go inside, will I lose my mind?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talk to me about, like, the process of actually writing this song, coming up with the words because it works on a whole bunch of different levels, this song.

SMITH: Right. I tend to write best when I'm at my altar at home. I have a space in my apartment in Harlem. I have books and candles, notes that I have, secrets to myself that I write out loud so that they can get out of my body. And I often pray in the morning there. And I sing. And I shake my body. I stretch. I release. And then things come out that are the truth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I feel like we all need an altar like that.

SMITH: Come on. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you've appeared on Broadway in the show "Be More Chill." And you're also a co-founder of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

SMITH: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about what that is.

SMITH: Oh, man. It's a 4-year-old nonprofit that is geared towards dismantling the systems of racism within our industry and outside of our industry and, like, systems of, you know, mass incarceration, police brutality. And so we figure out, what is the relationship between arts, policy and law? And then we get those individuals in a room together. And we share stories. And we create art that targets the policies that perpetuate the systems. So telling a story of racism, of microaggressions and sharing the stories to the people who may be perpetuating these stereotypes and may not know on all levels of power and policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's powerful.

SMITH: Yeah. And, like, in this moment, people are listening in a way that I'm excited about for change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Britton Smith. His song "Blackstronauts" performed by Britton and The Sting is one of the standout Tiny Desk contest videos. You can see it on our website npr.org.

Thank you very much.

SMITH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTRONAUTS")

BRITTON AND THE STING: (Singing) Yeah, yeah. I need you to lay...

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