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Iraq war veteran and professional recording artist finds solace in music

Kerry ‘2 Smooth’ Marshall is working on his sophomore album while touring with stars

Meet Kerry Marshall. The 35-year-old musician is a lead guitarist for Ty Dolla $ign, Ledisi, Chante Moore, Sebastian Kole and Sean Kingston. He’s toured and played with Jason Derulo, Tyrese, Chrisette Michele, Michelle Williams, Fantasia Barrino, Jacob Latimore, and the list goes on. Marshall recently finished a sold-out U.S. tour with nine-time Grammy-nominated recording artist Ledisi.

But before Marshall became one of the most sought-after guitarists in the music industry, he was fighting for his country. He developed a high level of resiliency and tenacity after battling in the combat zone in the Middle East. His first deployment to Iraq was for 15 months, from 2002-2003. His second deployment was for one year, from 2004-2005. Now he’s playing his guitar around the world with some of today’s biggest artists.

Marshall was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to a military father. His family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was in the fifth grade and it was there that he started to develop a hankering for music.

“Ever since the age of 6, I’ve been fascinated with the guitar and from that just kind of like messed around with it,” Marshall said. “At age 10 or 11 I started taking some music lessons. I learned from a guy in my church who taught me three chords and then from there I was so consumed with guitar, I never put it down. I always tried to play even though I wasn’t very good. I tried to play.”

Marshall went straight into the Army after high school. It was during his second deployment to Iraq that he realized he wanted his musical talents to take him further.

“I learned a sense of brotherhood just because everybody’s from different backgrounds and when you’re in the Army, you learn how to fight for the next person,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you did before this, it’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood. I learned a lot of unity. I learned team-building. I learned you got to depend and learn about trust and loyalty and just how you can look past differences and come together for a common goal.”

He plays the electric, bass and acoustic guitars.

“With my second deployment, there was this huge talent show and I remember being in Kuwait,” Marshall said. “There was this huge talent show. It was 2,000 of our peers and I remember winning the talent show and from that day, that moment on stage hearing that we won and everybody cheering, I knew right then and there I wanted to play guitar professionally. I wanted to be on the stage. I wanted to entertain thousands in different venues. From there I was always on mission until I got out of the military to always continue to practice my craft and get out and pursue music.”

When he returned to Birmingham, he formed a band with his childhood friends called Fifth Element.

“We played all around the city. We played in Atlanta. We played in Nashville. We played in Jackson, Mississippi. I got to a place where I felt like I reached the ceiling in Birmingham and a friend of mine had invited us to perform at the BET Awards. We just had to get ourselves out there and get a rehearsal. We got out there to the BET Awards and I performed. From that moment at that stage I knew that I needed to move to L.A. in order to have a furtherance of my career.”

On Nov. 17, 2003, Marshall moved to Los Angeles and performed at an open mic night. The next day he got a call to perform for Chrisette Michele.

Marshall believes work ethic plays an important role in being a successful independent artist.

“You come to the rehearsal, you look the part. You know the songs. You know the material and then whenever you’re out on the road, I’m like an asset and I’m not a liability. People know they can depend on me to be on time, to know the music and to give a great show. I apply the same principles that I did in the military to my music,” he said. “I knew that if I was in the right city, give myself an opportunity, and I know how to network, I knew it was just a matter of time before things begin to cook up.”

The best piece of advice Marshall has ever received is to move outside of your comfort zone.

“I think so many times in life, as people get comfortable, they get complacent because it’s easy, it’s comfortable and we know that we aren’t living our lives to our full potential. But because of fear, we allow fear to handicap us.”

Marshall said he will always be a champion for people living out their dreams.

“That’s going to be my main campaign — to inspire the next generation. Inspire my kids. Inspire people that I meet on a daily basis. If a kid from Alabama who had a dream to play guitar professionally can do it, then anybody anywhere else in the world, if you have a dream, it can be accomplished. With the proper planning, with the will to win, then you have to not listen to the naysayers. There’s going to be a lot of naysayers and a lot of people that don’t see your dream the way that you do. Don’t allow them to affect you from pursuing your dream.”

He was influenced at a young age by bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire and ’90s R&B groups Dru Hill, Ideal, Jagged Edge and Next. He would love the opportunity to collaborate with D’Angelo, Chris Brown and Tori Kelly.

He got his nickname “2 Smooth” when he was 13 or 14 years old. He was playing in a quartet group in Birmingham.

“I was really good but I never moved. I would stand in one spot, so somebody said, ‘The boy is good, but he just too smooth.’ Then from there it just kind of stuck. Now everybody knows me as ‘K2 Smooth’ or just ‘2 Smooth.’ ”

Marshall said the one piece of advice he wish he’d gotten was that life would be much harder than what he’d thought.

I wish he [his father] would have told me that, but I guess he didn’t want to give me an unfair advantage. He really wanted me to learn on my own. I was saying that’s probably the only thing, just understanding that’s life is way more mental, really mind over matter.”

Those who know Marshall are familiar with his love of sports. His favorite college football team is Alabama. “I’m a passionate Alabama fan,” he said. He’s an L.A. resident and he cheers for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors.

Marshall spends his downtime writing, producing and spending time with his wife and three sons. The producer and recording artist has several endorsements: four guitar companies (D’Angelico Guitars, Suhr Guitars, PRS Guitars and Walden), two amp companies (Quilter Labs and Immix 11) and two pedal board companies (Salvage Custom and Temple Audio). He has more than 1.1 million views on his YouTube channel and more than 31,000 followers and subscribers on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram combined.

Marshall released his first studio album, No Ordinary Conversation in December 2013 and he is working on his sophomore album.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.