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Record donation of $3.5M made to UH Mānoa music department : Maui Now

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.

“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 in a UH news release. 

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.


“The Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation grant is a truly transformative one,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno in a news release. “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.”

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. Though she was hired to teach piano and music theory, she became interested in the diversity of her students’ backgrounds, and soon began to question why Western music was taught exclusively.


She set out on a path to educate herself in numerous musical traditions of Hawaiʻi, the Pacific and Asia that would eventually lead 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.

Even after her official retirement in 1982, she remained deeply involved with the music department, and continued mentoring students for another three decades, well into her 90s. Graduates of the program Smith founded continue to hold influential positions throughout Hawaiʻi, the greater US, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Pacific region.


“As a former student of Professor Smith, and a longtime admirer of her vision and devotion to the discipline as she worked to shape it here at UH Mānoa,” said R. Anderson Sutton, an ethnomusicology professor at UH Mānoa and 1975 graduate of the program. “I am excited and honored to be directly involved in putting this grant to work, bringing new faculty and new students to this special program. Along with my many fellow graduates, I can say we are all truly grateful to the Foundation for providing the means to see Professor Smith’s legacy continue to grow and flourish.”

UH Mānoa is committed to expanding upon the renowned program Smith started through educating scholars in world music and lecture and performance classes with a focus in Asian, Pacific and American music.

“This extraordinary grant will ensure that the UH Mānoa ethnomusicology program continues to hold its rightful place among top programs in the US and abroad, contributing to both the advancement and understanding of musical cultures worldwide and to the rich and varied musical cultures right here in Hawaiʻi,” said Donald Womack, music department chair. “I can imagine no more appropriate way to honor Professor Smith’s truly visionary work and the lifetime of contributions she made to the university, the state and well beyond.”

The music department is housed in the UH Mānoa College of Arts, Languages and Letters.

Source: Maui News

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