Every artist has a story. No two stories are the same, because no two people are the same. However, most artists will tell you that there was a journey that led them to where they are today—an adventure filled with peaks and valleys that helped them become who they were created to be all along.
For worship leader and speaker Tasha Layton, the road to discovering her artistry has been a long, exhilarating one. And the journey that’s led her to the present has been hard, exciting, painful and incredible all at the same time. From her small town roots to being on the road with Katy Perry and working as an in-demand session singer in L.A. to moving to Nashville and recording her debut Christian EP, Tasha’s story is as vibrant and strong as the singer herself.
Tasha grew up in a Christian home in a South Carolina small town. “We had one flashing light and a volunteer fire department,” she says of her hometown. As a teen, her passion for God was ignited, and when merged with her love for music, she began to sing at church and lead worship for her youth group. Unfortunately, the church she was attending experienced a painful split, which left an undeniable imprint on the impressionable teen. By the time she entered college, she was carrying a heart full of wounds inflicted by an unhealthy church family and a head full of lies about her self-worth and musical gifts.
Hurt, confused and insecure, she eventually left church altogether; and as a college student, she became severely depressed and, at her lowest point, suicidal. Realizing she needed help, she changed her major from music to religion. “I was searching and had grown up conservative, so I just wanted to know about other religions,” she explains. “I went to Buddhist meditation camp. I went to mosque. I went to synagogue. I studied mysticism in Europe… I wanted to know what the truth was because I needed help. I needed something to grasp that was real, that was going to help me change.”
Through all of her exploration and research, Tasha rediscovered the Jesus of her youth. “In all those other religions, I realized that you had to strive to pursue God; whereas in Christianity, He’s chasing after us. He’s in hot pursuit of us,” she maintains. “I realized in all these things I had experienced, Jesus—not all these other religions—was the only one who had the power to transform me.”
From there, she decided to start attending a church that was more than an hour away, where no one knew her. “I didn’t feel anything for a whole year and a half. I just forced myself to go because I thought, ‘You know, faith is a decision, and at some point, it’s going to stick,’” Tasha recalls. “It was a small, loving church and that’s what I needed. After all the hurt I had experienced in church, I needed to experience God’s love… I realized that whole year and a half that they’d been loving me, they’d been loving me back to God and back to my calling.”
With a renewed faith and sense of purpose, Tasha enrolled at King’s Seminary in California, packed her bags and headed to the West Coast. “My mom always said, ‘You can’t steer a car that’s not moving,’ and so I thought, ‘I can at least get moving.’ Within a few weeks, I had a bed; I had furniture; I had a car; I had a job. Everything that I needed was provided for, and those three years of seminary changed my life,” she says, adding, “Seminary’s not just about what you’re learning; it’s about how you’re transforming and who God’s shaping you to be during that time.”
After her painful church experience, Tasha had laid down singing, resigning herself to the fact that perhaps music wasn’t her calling after all. Yet, after being asked to lead worship at a women’s event during seminary, she reluctantly began to find her voice again. “I knew that God was wanting to heal that part of my life,” Tasha contends. “I thought, ‘OK, maybe this part of me isn’t dead, and God is breathing it back to life.’” She soon began leading worship at a local church. Music began to take a more prominent role in her life, and she eventually ended up auditioning for Season 9 of “American Idol”—something she’d never thought she’d do. She was cut along with now successful “Idol” alums Tori Kelly, Todrick Hall and Luke Edgemon.
A few months later, she got asked to audition as a background vocalist for a Kesha/Rihanna tour. Much to her surprise, she got the job. However, she never felt complete peace about the opportunity, and on the morning rehearsals were scheduled to begin, she called and turned down the gig. Ironically, later that afternoon, she received a call from Katy Perry’s manager, asking if she could come to an audition in 20 minutes. This time, she felt instant peace. “I downloaded the song on my phone and learned it on the way. I was the last girl of the day to audition, and we left for Madison Square Garden two days later,” Tasha remembers. “We were one of the biggest tours in the world at that point, and it was an amazing ride.”
Her tenure with Perry allowed her to see the world, taking her to more than 40 countries around the globe. During that time, new doors were also opening for her as a vocalist, and Tasha was soon doing session work for high-profile clients, including Disney, Nickelodeon and Cirque du Soleil, among others. However, the leap from worship leader to background singer wasn’t without its challenges. “Making the transition between worship leader, where your job is to get out of the way, to background vocalist on a tour like that, where if you’re not noticed, you might lose your job—that was a tough transition for me,” Tasha reveals. “I think it was God shaping me, preparing me for what was next.”
During a tour break, Tasha spent a summer doing mission work in Kenya and South Africa. The trip proved life-changing. “When I returned to Los Angeles, I just felt this chasm between the disparity of these African communities I was working in and the self-absorbed, materialistic perspective of Hollywood,” she shares.
After more than four years on tour with Perry, deep down, Tasha sensed it was time to move on. “I knew that God still had a call on my life,” she says, “and that the season I had been in wasn’t a detour, but part of His plan. I also knew it was time for a new chapter—whatever that might be.”
After spending several weeks at home with her family in South Carolina, Tasha decided it was finally time to make music all her own. So she headed to Music City. “Like a lot of artists, I wanted to know I had something to offer in a city so concentrated with gifted people. When I moved to Nashville, I was nervous, but I felt a new confidence to say, ‘God truly loves me, and I can step out and do whatever He’s called me to do because it’s not about comparison,’” she offers. “Comparison crushes creativity.”
Thankfully, Tasha was able to push any hint of comparison aside and discover her unique identity as an artist and a speaker. She’s found inspiration in the classroom teaching at the National Praise and Worship Institute at Trevecca University. “It’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done,” she says, “because I feel like it’s true discipleship.”
In addition, she’s also currently in the studio working on her debut EP, Love Running Wild, a bright, upbeat, colorful collection of original material. Tasha’s co-written with some of Music Row’s most well-respected songwriters for the project, including Jess Cates, Ross King, Josh Silverberg and Krissy Nordhoff, among others. Her GRAMMY®-nominated, Dove Award-winning husband, Keith Everette Smith, is producing the album.
“What I’m trying to communicate through this project is the truth that I’ve learned along the way—that there is power and life in listening to the Holy Spirit and accepting that you can trust Him because He’s good,” Tasha reflects. “Even in the darkest place, He’s still there.”
Looking back, Tasha is grateful for the people she’s met, the places she’s experienced and the lessons she’s learned. “If I have any regrets, it was caring too much about what people thought of me, wanting to please everybody and being afraid—afraid of failure, afraid of success, afraid of my own humanity,” she candidly shares. “Being a Christian, I am supposed to be a light, and being a light means being my true self.”
Embarking on a solo career, she’s looking forward to the future and carving out her own path as a singer, songwriter and speaker, using her God-given talents to serve and encourage others. “My whole creative journey, I’ve felt so bound from fear…but God says to Joshua, ‘Be bold and courageous, because I’ll never leave you, I’ll never forsake you,’” she says. “And I feel like that’s what He’s been telling me throughout this whole journey—‘be bold and courageous’—because He’s going to meet me there.”