In Memoriam: Barbara Barnard Smith, 1920-2021

Professor Smith in 1960

Barbara Barnard Smith, professor emerita at the University of Hawai’i Mānoa, died on July 3 in Honolulu. She was 101 years old.

A native of Ventura, California, Professor Smith became an accomplished pianist and organist and studied music as an undergraduate at Pomona College in Claremont, California. She completed her graduate education at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. After completing her master’s degree in music literature in 1945 she took a position at the University of Hawaii to teach piano and music theory in the newly established music department.

Professor Smith sought to bring a more culturally diverse perspective to music studies at the university. In 1957, she taught the university’s first course on non-Western music. She introduced classes in hula and Hawaiian chant, Korean dance, Chinese butterfly harp, and Japanese gagaku (court music). A partnership with the university’s East-West Center after the 1960s brought visiting scholars and performances of world music, dance, and theater to Hawaiʻi, which resulted in the formation of master’s and doctoral programs in ethnomusicology at the University of Hawai’i Mānoa.

“Barbara Smith was an extraordinary person who has touched so many lives as a mentor, an advocate for minority cultures, and a generous philanthropist,” said Ricardo D. Trimillos, one of Smith’s first graduate students and a professor emeritus of ethnomusicology and Asian studies at the university.

After retiring from full-time teaching in 1982, Profesor Smith remained engaged with the university through fieldwork, research advocacy, and mentoring international graduate students. She even continued mentoring dissertation students virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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