Leah Dowdy’s voice fills the little room in her New York City apartment. Two friends jam out beside her, one on guitar, the other keeping beat with his hands on a percussive instrument called a cajón. The soulful song they play: “The Fool,” a Dowdy original.
For years, singing and songwriting had been a private, “quiet thing” in the Pitt alumna’s life. Not anymore. A camera records this performance and broadcasts it live around the country to hundreds of thousands of viewers of NBC’s “The Today Show.”
The spotlight isn’t exactly new to Dowdy (A&S ’11). At Pitt, she double majored in film studies and communications rhetoric and minored in dance. After graduating, she moved to New York, where she soon built an impressive acting career, first booking roles in small films, then hitting her stride as a commercial actress in promotions for companies like SeatGeek and American Express. Most recently, she worked as a spokesperson for Hilton Hotels.
But when COVID-19 hit, she was forced to pause her acting career. As for so many others, the work just wasn’t there.
That’s when she found herself returning to an old passion: singing and songwriting. She’s loved doing both ever since she was 7 years old, crooning with friends in a girl group they called Superstarz. She wrote songs on neon-colored paper and amassed a binder full of music. “It was like keeping a diary. I did it privately,” she says.
This year, the time seemed right to take this facet of her creative life out of the shadows. Earlier in the pandemic, isolated with her parents in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Dowdy popped up one morning inspired to write “The Fool,” about a former relationship.
Later, amid the social unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd, she wrote her second single, “Human,” a ballad to the Black Lives Matter movement and an effort to make sense of what she called “a devastatingly senseless act.” She posted the song on social media and, after receiving an overwhelmingly positive and emotional response, uploaded it to all major music platforms with proceeds donated to the nonprofit Color of Change. The experience helped her rediscover how music could not only provide her a healing, creative space, but could contribute to the well-being of others, too.
She was already enjoying sharing her music with others when, in late September, she learned about Tomorrow’s Talents Today, a new segment of “The Today Show’s” “Today with Hoda and Jenna.” After reaching out to the show and nailing an interview, Dowdy was booked to perform on air (and from the safety of her own home).
The experience was thrilling, and the response has been positive. Host Hoda Kotb called her a “bright light.”
“Friends and family are losing their mind,” she laughs. “It’s been heartwarming and humbling.”
She’s now at work planning a music video for her third single, “Worthy,” which she hopes to release in December. This new chapter in her creative career has been a bright light in a challenging year. In some ways, it mirrors her experience at Pitt, where she says she received a “renewed sense of possibilities and opportunities.”
If the enjoyment of thousands of “The Today Show” viewers is any indication, Dowdy’s spotlight, and the possibilities it brings, are sure to get brighter.
Watch Leah Dowdy perform on NBC here.
Cover image: Leah Dowdy, left, performs live via video feed on "The Today Show" with guitarist Harvey Leona and drummer Adam Bauch.