The Late Barbara Barnard Smith ’42 Leaves a Legacy of Support for Musicians at Pomona

Barbara Smith

For decades, the generosity of Barbara Barnard Smith ’42 helped Pomona students and the wider community to grow in their knowledge of non-Western music.

With her passing in July at the age of 101, Smith continued that legacy by leaving more than $3.5 million to the Pomona College Music Department through a planned gift.

Half of this funding will support the future renovation of Music Department facilities and the naming of a space in honor of the late Professor of Music Katherine J. Hagedorn. The other half will further endow the existing Barbara B. Smith ’42 Fund for Non-Western Music to support ethnomusicology curriculum and other instruction, programming, equipment and performances of non-Western music at the College.

President G. Gabrielle Starr commented on the significance of Smith’s engagement with Pomona: “In life and in death, Barbara B. Smith was dedicated to the needs of students of music. This gift will ensure that students and our greater community will continue to learn about and enjoy non-Western music for generations to come.”

Smith’s planned gift along with her giving during her lifetime brings her total support to the College to $5.7 million. Her generosity was instrumental in developing the College as a forerunner among undergraduate institutions’ expansion of curricula to include regular exposure to and research opportunities in non-Western music.

Smith’s planned gift will allow the Music Department to further develop its ethnomusicology program, including increased support for student research, a critical aspect of Pomona’s liberal arts education. Through these kinds of research projects, students can delve deeply into the history and culture of non-Western musical traditions of their choosing.

Associate Professor of Music Joti Rockwell recalls an ethnomusicology summer research project from a student who became interested in Balinese gamelan music through Pomona’s ensemble. “She did research in Bali and learned the music and dance in depth. She then created musical compositions that had aspects of Balinese gamelan music, as well as other styles, and continues to do this creative and wonderful work after graduation.”

Smith’s philanthropy has allowed the College to host a broad array of musicians and academicians from near and far, such as Zimbabwean mbira maestro Musekiwa Chingodza, ethnomusicologist and filmmaker Zoe Sherinian and Southern Philippine gong-drum music by Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble, and her support made possible Pomona’s non-Western music ensembles, including the Balinese gamelan, West African and Afro-Cuban ensembles.

“Barbara’s generosity to our department in support of our non-Western music curriculum in particular has been an inspiration to all of us,” Department Chair and David J. Baldwin Professor of Music Donna M. Di Grazia says, “and we are ever-grateful for it. But what I will cherish the most about Barbara is her generous spirit, her love of her chosen field and astonishing contribution to it, and her deep respect for the diverse cultures of the world.”

Smith’s previous philanthropy also has supported The Claremont Colleges Chinese Music Club, which practices in the Rembrandt Building.

“Bringing my erhu from home to that Rembrandt room, playing new and old Chinese songs, and connecting with both Chinese American and Chinese international students meant so much to me,” says Shan Ming Gao ’21. “And as co-president, I got to help make a club where different generations of Chinese culture and diaspora turned into warm music. I’m so grateful for Barbara Smith’s generosity, which made these experiences possible.”

Smith’s legacy goes well beyond the College Gates. One of the early contributors to the emerging field of ethnomusicology and a visionary in applying its tenets to benefit students, Smith helped shift academia’s almost exclusive focus on Western music.

Smith was born on June 10, 1920, in Ventura, California, and grew up in Ojai, living in the home that since became Ojai City Hall. Her great grandfather, William Dewey Hobson, is considered by many to be the father of Ventura County for his work separating it from Santa Barbara County. Smith’s love of music might be attributed to her mother, Grace Hobson Smith, who studied music at UC Berkeley, and was known as an excellent violinist.

“She encouraged and arranged for music lessons for all her children from an early age,” Smith’s nephew, Gregory H. Smith says. “Barbara was also active with her family in traditional folk dancing while growing up.” Possibly of equal importance in Smith’s early musical life was Edward Yeomans, principal at Ojai Valley School, who was committed to experiential learning.

Attending Pomona became a Smith family tradition with both Smith’s older brother, Rodney H. Smith ’40 P’69 P’70, and younger sister Helen Margaret “Peggy” Smith ’43 attending the College.

After graduating from Pomona, Smith studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester before embarking on a career teaching at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa from 1949 to 1982. Noting the composition and unmet needs of the university’s diverse student body, Smith learned to perform the music of various ethnicities and introduced classes in hula and Hawaiian chant, Korean dance, Chinese dulcimer and Japanese gagaku (court music). She founded UH Mānoa’s ethnomusicology program and established its master and Ph.D. ethnomusicology degree programs.

“I am sure she applied the musical disciplines and analysis that she learned at Pomona to her studies of non-Western music and instruments,” Gregory H. Smith says. “When she began studying non-Western music, there was not a great body of written or recorded material available, as there is today, so she had to create her own materials for her students using Western notation and analysis.”

Associate Professor of Music Gibb Schreffler noted how “Barbara took advantage of the base of resources created through scholarship to bring a new body of knowledge about world music traditions to a practical application.”

“Her most impactful contribution was to reach beyond the graduate-level, research-oriented focus of most contemporary ethnomusicologists to see the field's potential to enhance education at all levels—not only bringing exposure to music from around the world, but also representation of students’ own cultures—paving new avenues of learning that did not exist at the time.”

Smith was an avid surfer, and her ashes were scattered at her favorite surfing spot in Hawaiʻi.