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In memoriam: Barbara Smith, founder of the ethnomusicology program

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<figcaption id= Barbara Bernard Smith celebrates her 100th birthday via video conference. (Photo: Linda Adamson)

Long respected as an advocate for the study of the music and dance of Hawaiʻi Asia and the Pacific, University of Hawaiʻi in Mānoa Professor Emerita Barbara Barnard Smith who founded the university's ethnomusicology program, died the night of July 3. Colleagues and alumni gathered to virtually celebrate the veteran professor's 101st birthday on June 10.

Loved ones issued this statement:
“She was a dear colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend. Although we are saddened by his passing, we honor and celebrate a life well lived. One of his requests (instructions!) Was "… and be sure to emphasize my long and amazingly wonderful life."

Barbara Smith Turns 100: The Legacy of a Long Life in Music
—June 8, 2020

“Barbara Smith was an extraordinary person who has touched so many lives as a mentor, advocate for minority cultures and generous philanthropist, ”said UH Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology and Asian Studies at Mānoa Ricardo D. Trimillos one of Smith's first graduate students. “For me she was all that, but above all she was a dear friend. His passing is not a time for sadness, but a time to honor and celebrate a life well lived. The legacy of Barbara B. Smith

Smith's faculty photo taken in 1960. (Photo credit: Miyamoto Photograph Collection, Archives & Manuscripts, UH Mānoa Library)

Original From California, Smith began his career in UH Mānoa in 1949 teaching piano and music theory, after earning his master's degree in music literature from the Eastman School of Music. He then became interested in the various ethnic origins of his students, but realized that what they were learning was limited to Euro-American culture.

Smith, affectionately known as "Miss Smith" by her students, learned to perform ethnic music and introduced classes in hula and Hawaiian singing, Korean dance, Chinese butterfly harp, and Japanese gagaku (cut music). A partnership with the East-West Center after the 1960s brought visiting scholars and world music, dance, and theater performances to Hawaiʻi resulting in the formation of master's and doctoral programs in ethnomusicology in UH Mānoa.

UH Mānoa's ethnomusicology program is internationally recognized and graduates have become advocates for culture and the arts in the US, Canada, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region. Among Smith's early students were Herbert Ohta (Ohta-san) and Eddie Kamae both recognized artists in the Hawaiian music industry.

After retiring from full-time teaching in 1982, Smith remained committed to the university through fieldwork, promoting research, and mentoring international graduate students. He even continued to advise thesis students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith's accolades include being named a "living treasure" by the UH Mānoa Colleges of Arts and Sciences; recognition as a “pioneer” by the Honolulu City Council; the Alfred Preis Honor of the Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance 2018 ; and the Governor's Award for the Preservation of Hawaiian Language, Art, and Culture.

To honor Smith's wishes, there will be no memorial service. His ashes will be scattered at his favorite surf spot, as longboarding was a treasured hobby during his early years at UH Mānoa. Condolence messages can be sent to his ʻohana through the teacher's email account Memorial donations can be made to the Foundation UH the East-West Center Arts Program or the Ventura County Museum.

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<figcaption id= Barbara Smith demonstrating the koto with music students holding a pipe Chinese lute and Korean changgo drum, 1951.

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