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Barbara Smith
Barbara Smith (Credit: Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance)

A record $3.5-million gift to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa from the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation will fund the music department’s first-ever endowed chair. The newly established Professor Barbara Barnard Smith Endowed Chair supports the university’s desire and commitment to revitalize its ethnomusicology program and honors the legacy of the late revered UH Mānoa professor who died in 2021.

The Kalihi Kai Elementary Ukulele Club perform for Smith at the 2019 Alfred Preis celebration. (Credit: Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance)

“This is the first major grant from the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation and the board is very pleased that it will recognize Professor Smith’s legacy at the University of Hawaiʻi while supporting the University’s commitment to enhancing the ethnomusicology program,” said Gregory Smith, the foundation’s president and nephew of the beloved professor.

UH Mānoa’s ethnomusicology program educates students in world music with a special focus on Asia and the Pacific. In addition to the newly created Professor Barbara Barnard Smith Endowed Chair, the grant also provides for two additional faculty positions, and will bolster a range of enhancements to the ethnomusicology program, including student support.

Barbara Smith demonstrating the koto with music students
Barbara Smith demonstrating the koto with music students, 1951.

“The Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation grant is a truly transformative one,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno. “It will build on the amazing legacy of Professor Smith and the internationally recognized ethnomusicology program she pioneered, as well as secure UH Mānoa’s future significance in the field. I am deeply grateful for this grant and the profound impact it will have on students, faculty, performance, and scholarship.”

Impactful legacy

Smith performing the koto.
Performing the Japanese koto, 1956.

Smith was a trailblazer in the ethnomusicology field, which focuses on the study of musical traditions from around the world in their social and cultural contexts. Arriving at UH Mānoa as a young faculty member in 1949, Professor Smith found herself immersed in a tapestry of cultures that she had previously not known. She set out on a path to educate herself in numerous musical traditions of Hawaiʻi, the Pacific and Asia that led to the founding and development of one of the nation’s earliest programs in ethnomusicology, which is internationally recognized today.

The impact of Professor Smith’s work can be seen in her students, among the earliest of whom were legendary Hawaiʻi musicians Herb Ohta and Eddie Kamae. Graduates of the program Smith founded continue to hold influential positions throughout Hawaiʻi, the greater U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and the Pacific region.

For more go to the UH Foundation website.

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