Lavenia Nesmith has been organizing Jazz in the Mills for the last 10 years in Oakland Mills. She takes great pride in offering "top-notch" performers" for the series of four jazz concerts a year held in early spring, June, September and early December.
"I am very selective of who performs," Nesmith said. "It has become a highly anticipated event."
For Lauren Haywood, there was no question whom to call about adding a jazz performance to the eclectic mix of concerts offered at One World Coffeehouse, an outreach of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.
"I contacted her and asked her to hook me up with some acts," Haywood said. "I found out Lavenia is pretty famous."
"I received a call from Lauren and she was telling me about her program and what she wanted to do. She asked me for my support," Nesmith said. "I invited her to my program to meet the performers."
Haywood was introduced to several jazz musicians and was impressed with the production Nesmith put together. She was even more impressed when she heard Nesmith sing.
"The hair on the back of my neck stood up ..she has that kind of voice," Haywood said, of Nesmith. "She really knocks it out of the park.
"I said, 'We'll start with you'."
Nesmith will perform as part of the One World Coffeehouse on Dec. 18, at 7 p.m., at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia. Her "An Evening of Jazz" will feature a mixture of jazz tunes, a little gospel and some holiday tunes, Nesmith surmises.
"I will mix it up a bit," said Nesmith, a native of Washington, D.C., who has lived in Columbia for 40 years.
From a young age, Nesmith knew she wanted to be a singer. She grew up singing gospel and jazz and even performed with a rock n' roll band when she was a teenager. Her plans to become a professional singer were put on hold for her family, when her son was born with a disability.
"He became my major focus," Nesmith said. "In 1999, I resurrected my career."
Her voice has been heard at numerous venues and festivals around the area, including a performance at the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Kennedy Center in 2003. She received an invitation from the White House to perform at the Washington National Cathedral with The Metropolitan Baptist Church Music Ministry for the Day or Prayer Service in September 2005.
"I've had some great opportunities," Nesmith said. "I've had some really, really wonderful opportunities to perform."
She is excited to perform in the newly renovated Owen Brown Interfaith Center.
"It is a beautiful facility," Nesmith said. "The acoustics are wonderful."
Like her own Jazz in the Mills series, One World Coffeehouse offers a chance for people to hear live music, relax and enjoy themselves, Nesmith said.
"I'm expecting a nice group of people to attend," Nesmith said. "I have a very nice following. Combine that with the members of their community and I am hoping it will be a nice gathering."
With Nesmith's connections, Haywood hopes to add a few jazz shows throughout the year to the One World Coffeehouse lineup.
"We will have several slots for jazz in one year," Haywood said. "Lavenia really introduced me to a lot of good jazz musicians. She's an excellent connection."
One World Coffeehouse presents Lavenia Nesmith on Dec. 17, at 7 p.m., at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia. Tickets are $25 at the door: $10 for ages 5 to 18; $20 in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2699135. Call 410-381-0097.