The artistic talent in Lincoln County can be astounding and sometimes shows up at strange times. These times of COVID can certainly be coined as strange. It’s to some extent because of the pandemic that Elijah Smith’s talent came under the spotlight.
Graduating from Lincolnton High School in 2016, Smith was offered a scholarship at Mars Hill University where he was attending until COVID struck. He returned home this spring to look after his mother, Sajohnna, who is immunocompromised. Since returning home, Smith landed a job at The Meating Place in Lincolnton and is performing gigs in the area such as during the Christmas Crawl and Festival of Trees earlier in December and at Untapped Territory. He’s got several other irons in the fire.
Smith grew up in a musical family. At one time, Smith’s parents were in a band together.
“My first exposure to music was my mom forcing me into the church musicals that she directed every year,” he said. “She likes to joke around that I would do really well in all the rehearsals, and we’d get right up to the show and I’d say, ‘nope, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it.’ She’d get me back on board with it and I’d do well in the performance.”
As Smith got older, he took part in choir in middle school. While he was in middle school, his parents divorced. He moved with his mother to Huntersville and enrolled in Hopewell High School.
“Hopewell had no programs that I could be a part of that had anything to do with music,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it for a while, but I came back to Lincolnton because I couldn’t assimilate basically. When I came back, they said that since I was in choir in middle school, did I want to sign up for it in high school. I told them I’d do one semester and then get out of it.”
It didn’t take long for Shane Stephens, the director of the music program at Lincolnton High School to change his mind. He told Smith that he had a talent that he should foster.
Smith’s father, Tommy Smith, is also a musician. He exposed his son to his own love of rock music.
“I think when most kids my age were listening to the newest pop or hip-hop albums, I was listening to Led Zeppelin and stuff like that,” he said. “When I was 16, he bought me an electric keyboard instead of a car. Once I had that in my house, every song I learned, he’d come in and we’d play it together and sing it. It was always really fun.”
Mars Hill University was not at the top of Smith’s list of colleges to attend. They had sent him an offer which he wasn’t terribly impressed with.
“They came to Lincolnton and Dr. Rodney Caldwell (Chair of the Department of Music at Mars Hill) heard me sing in the choir and asked where I was going to school,” Smith said. “I told him I didn’t know, and he said that he’d like to see if he could get me to go to Mars Hill. After a few conversations, my offer got a lot better and I took him up on it.”
Smith is currently in the music education program. He finished his fourth year and was preparing to get his certification and then COVID hit.
“I had to make the decision, am I going back to school or am I staying home and making sure mom is okay,” he said. “She wanted me to go to school and my director wanted me to go back to school, but I made the decision to stay home and make sure mom was okay. I plan to go back this fall.”
Attending a collegiate music school as really broadened Smith’s view of music. He’s been exposed to rock through his father and jazz and classical through his mother, but he’s really been opened up to all genres of music.
“I think music school makes you try really hard to pull something to enjoy out of every type of music,” he said. “Even if I listen to a song and I can hear the exact four chords that make up that entire song. There’s something to be pulled out that connects. I don’t think a lot of people really have that sort of mentality. They’re so ready to hate what they’re hearing.”
Smith hopes to return to this area to teach, but he’s hoping that COVID infections will have settled down by the time he’s ready to start looking.
“I know that I’m a young person with an immune system in the right place, but I’ve heard some crazy things about that virus,” he said. “With my mother being immunocompromised I take every precaution that I can.”