A pioneer for cultural music and dance studies in Hawaii dies at age 101

Loved ones look back at the remarkable life of Barbara Bernard Smith.
Loved ones look back at the remarkable life of Barbara Bernard Smith.(Linda Adamson via UH)
Published: Jul. 4, 2021 at 3:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A champion of music and dance in Hawaii has died.

UH Mānoa Professor Emerita Barbara Barnard Smith died Saturday evening at the age of 101.

She’s credited with establishing the school’s ethnomusicology program, touching the lives of many students over the years.

Smith began her career at UH in 1949 teaching piano and music theory. She held her master’s degree in music literature from the Eastman School of Music.

Advancing through her studies, she realized course material was limited to Euro-American culture, and decided it needed to be expanded. With the university, she introduced classes in hula and Hawaiian chant, Korean dance, Chinese butterfly harp and Japanese gagaku.

In a statement on her passing, her loved ones said, “She was a beloved colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend. Although we are saddened by her passing, we honor and celebrate a life well lived. One of her requests (instructions!) was ‘…and be sure to emphasize my long and amazingly wonderful life.’”

She celebrated her 101st birthday in June via video conference with friends and loved ones. UH Ethnomusicology and Asian Studies Professor Emeritus Ricardo D. Trimillos was one of Smith’s first graduate students.

“Barbara Smith was an extraordinary person who has touched so many lives as a mentor, an advocate for minority cultures, and a generous philanthropist. For me she was all these, but above all she was a dear friend. Her passing is not a time for sadness, but a time to honor and celebrate a life well lived,” Trimillos said.

Other notable students of ‘Miss Smith’ include Hawaiian music performers like Herbert Ohta and Eddie Kamae.

Loved ones look back at the remarkable life of Barbara Bernard Smith.
Loved ones look back at the remarkable life of Barbara Bernard Smith.(University of Hawaii)

Smith earned many acclaims including being named a living treasure by UH’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences, a recognition as a “pioneer” by the Honolulu City County, and many more awards for her work toward preserving language and culture.

Honoring her wishes, there will be no memorial service. Family will scatter her ashes at her favorite surfing spot.

Messages of condolence can be sent to her ʻohana through the professor’s email account barbaras@hawaii.edu. Donations in her memory can be made to the UH Foundation, the East-West Center arts program or the Museum of Ventura County.

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