Aaron Nigel Smith is a musician, educator, and runs a non-profit organization called "1 World Chorus." He grew up around music by attending art schools at a young age. As time went on, he taught music lessons to Ziggy Marley's kids and even worked with Ziggy on music. His story is one you don't want to miss!
Ben: Before we get into questions, can you give readers a brief introduction of yourself?
Aaron: My name is Aaron Nigel Smith and I'm 45 years young. I’m an educator, a children’s music performer and producer, and I run a non-profit organization called “1 World Chorus.”
Ben: When and how did you discover your passion for making music?
Aaron: When I was a young boy around the age of ten, my grandmother got me involved in a music program called the American Boychoir School. Our academics were of equal importance as the music while I was there. Before we had school we’d wake up and do choir for about three hours, go to school for a few hours, and then go do more choir. They gave us so much knowledge of classical music and western music training. We’d go out and perform in world-renowned venues/concert halls. The transition from growing up in Pontiac, Michigan to performing in the Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall was really impactful for me. That made me want to learn more about music and I knew then and there that I wanted to be a musician for a career.
Ben: When did you find your passion for educating children about music?
Aaron: Everything I spoke about led to becoming more educated and wanting to continue learning. I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for high school, where we lived at the school and did music/art all day. Later on, I want to Manhattan School of Music for college as a voice major. After school, I went on tour with the Jubilee singers and that took me all around the world. From Europe to South America to Asia. It was in the midst of that my first child was born and living that hectic touring life had to come to a pause. I had to decide whether I wanted to keep touring or focus on something closer to home. Instead of continuing to perform, I decided to start teaching. That’s when I feel like my true calling was manifested. Everything came full circle when I started educating the youth. I formed my non-profit “1 World Chorus” in the hopes of giving youth more opportunity to learn about music and see the possibility music gives to the world.
Ben: Can you dive deeper into “1 World Chorus”?
Aaron: In 2009, my wife and I formed the non-profit organization in hopes of getting kids together to sing. That was my introduction to music so it was the most natural for me to start there. That quickly took off and grew to a point where we were providing chorus programs for a lot of youth in southern California. When we moved to Portland, Oregon it really started to blossom. We added drumming, more chorus, a rock band, and a television production program called The Big Up Show. Those are the primary programs that we offer to youth in the United States, Kenya, and Jamaica. They have our youth learning the same rhythms or songs and performing them together. They even learn how to produce albums together, as well as the television show “The Big Up Show” It’s all a very collaborative process and international collaboration to promote peace and bring the youth together through art.
Ben: That’s amazing, Aaron! It’s so important to bring the youth together and especially promote peace in our world. Can you tell me a little bit about “The Big Up Show” and what your vision is for it?
Aaron: The Big Up Show is a show geared towards younger children, similar to the demographics of Sesame Street. The message is a message of peace. We are trying to teach these children the principles of community building, teamwork, and peace. Instead of teaching letters, numbers, and colors in that medium. So we’ve found that you can have an equal impact on the emotional well being of youth with their basic education through video as a medium. What we do is bring youth ages 10-18 for a ten-week residency. We teach them how to run state of the art cameras, production equipment, and audio equipment. They also learn how to produce, act, write and build a set. At the end of the ten weeks, we put it all together and do a live video broadcast in front of a studio audience. We let the kids run the entire show from the cameras to acting to stage managing. We always say The Big Up Show is made for kids by kids. In terms of the big picture, I’d like it to be picked up by someone like PBS. I worked with them on a show in the past so I’d like to rekindle those relationships. I believe that’d be the most ideal audience for The Big Up Show. I also think partnering with a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu would also be very beneficial.
Ben: How many people do you usually have come out for the ten-week residency?
Aaron: We typically have about 10-15 youth come out. We primarily focus on Northeast Portland right now and sometimes Southeast. This concept was really birthed in Portland and it’s something we want to take to an international level. Typically we’ll have 100-200 people come out for the live performance of The Big Up Show! The really cool thing about it is our partnership with Open Signal who handles local broadcast in Portland. They have access to about a million viewers in the Portland metro area and we broadcast all of the content on their station after it’s done.
Ben: How has it been incorporating your family into your career and passions?
Aaron: It’s been a joy! One of the things that touch my heart the most is to be able to do this work with my family. My sons have both come up in this work with me. Whether it’s recording on albums with me or just work on music. My wife has been integral in helping to shape the organization. One of the things I’m most proud of is that family connection and involvement. My oldest son actually moved back to Los Angeles and is working with an organization called City Year. They work with inner-city youth in Watts and so everything is coming full circle and it’s a joy to see.
Ben: What kind of albums have you worked on? Is there a favorite music project you’ve worked on over the years?
Aaron: I have five albums out actually and my favorite album is my most recent called “One.” I feel like I really transcended and created a sound that’s for more than just children. It’s a more universal album and I’m really proud of how it turned out. The most meaningful experience was working with Ziggy Marley several times. To have him ask me to make music is something I’m very moved by and proud of. My son is actually on a Bob Marley children’s album, singing a duet with Bob. They add his voice in between Bob’s which was an incredible experience to take part in.
Ben: Wow… that’s unbelievable! How did that opportunity come about?
Aaron: So I was living in Los Angeles for a while and of course there’s a lot of celebrities that live there. Everyone that lives there ultimately knows someone else and luckily my encounters happened with Ziggy Marley. I actually was his kids first music teacher and would go to their house to do private music lessons for several years. It would be Ziggy’s kids and other kids from their neighborhood. After doing that for several years, I was working on an album and I asked Ziggy to sing on one of the tracks and he actually said yes! So he actually recorded with me before I recorded music for him. So they were doing the B is for Bob album which is the Bob Marley children's album and Ziggy asked me to prepare a children’s choir for that album. My son was one of them and Ziggy actually chose my son to do the solo which was amazing.
Aaron Nigel Smith can be found on all social + streaming services @aaronnigelsmith! It was amazing to hear about his experiences and passion for youth.