Calloused from nearly two decades of performing, her fingers feel most at home when wrapped around the neck of a finely tuned violin. Meet Candice Smith, who goes by the stage name Pretty Stringz. She has been playing the violin since her mother signed her up for lessons at the tender age of nine.
“When I was in elementary school, the teacher always sent back so many papers. I didn’t even know that there was a paper in my bookbag for violin [lessons], but when I got home my mom went through my bookbag and she saw that my school was offering violin, so she was like ‘I have to sign her up! I have to sign her up!’” said the former child prodigy.
Just shy of her 27th birthday, Smith has cemented herself as an artist in a rather unforgiving field typically associated with older Caucasians. African American musicians make up less than 2 percent of American orchestras, according to a 2014 study by the League of American Orchestras. The percentage of Black conductors is slightly higher at 4.3 percent.
Smith hasn’t allowed the lack of inclusion to deter her from pursuing her career. She says she has always been the type to take matters into her own hands – especially when carrying sheets of music.
“I am naturally a very hard worker and I’ve always strived to be the best,” said Smith. “You have to have a bold mindset. There aren’t a lot of Black violinists, there aren’t a lot of female Black violinists, and there are even fewer violinists that play other genres of music.”
Smith is determined to be the change she wants to see. In her role as a violin instructor, she has made it her mission to encourage younger generations to step outside the box.
“Classical music normally goes hand-in-hand with the violin, but I believe that in this new day and age, with this new generation, we are creating new opportunities and we’re branching out to different genres of music,” said Smith. “I think it’s very important to expose them to that and let them know that people of all ages are doing amazing things on the violin.”
The average age of classical music listeners is about 45 and nearly 40 percent of the audience is 55 years of age or older, according to a study by MIDiA Research. The number of younger listeners is growing; fans in Smith’s age range of 25-34 account for 31 percent of listeners, the second highest group in the study.
Despite making strides in her journey as a violinist, playing at Carnegie Hall and opening for various musicians on tour, the Detroit-native has experienced her fair share of trials. Smith says society’s perception of success made her feel as though she had to alter her dreams to make them suitable for others.
“I was constantly trying to prove myself so that I could pursue my dream and my goals could be approved by people looking in from the outside,” said Smith. “I felt like if I were to say ‘I want to be a violinist’ or ‘I want to teach music,’ I’d have to explain myself…‘I want to be a teacher, but I also want to have a business on the side’ to make it sound better.”
Smith says having mental strength helped her succeed.
“I’ve always known what path I wanted to take, and I think with that comes a sense of boldness and mental strength because a lot of times when you’re pursuing big dreams you will have a lot of people that are close to you, or in some ways close to you, that will try to tear that dream apart,” said Smith.
Unafraid to wear her identity like a badge of honor, Smith knows she isn’t your average violinist.
Smith’s debut single Mirrors, released on Aug. 31, details her story of self-identification through an arrangement of musical harmonies.
“People will try to define who you are,” said Smith. “It’s about being bold, knowing who you are on the inside, and not letting people stir you away from living out your full potential.”