Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation Donates $3.5 Million to UH to Bolster Ethnomusicology

by Madonna

In a landmark philanthropic gesture, the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation fund has bestowed a generous donation of $3.5 million to the University of Hawaii’s music department. This substantial contribution is earmarked to fortify the university’s ethnomusicology program, honoring the late Professor Barbara Smith’s legacy.

The funds will be strategically allocated to establish an endowed chair and two additional faculty positions within the music department. Moreover, the donation will play a pivotal role in revitalizing UH’s ethnomusicology department, solidifying its standing as one of the nation’s pioneering programs.


Expressing gratitude for this transformative grant, Gregory Smith, president of the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation and Professor Smith’s nephew, stated, “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 Hawaii while supporting the University’s commitment to enhancing the ethnomusicology program.”


Professor Barbara Smith, a revered figure at UH Manoa, began her tenure in 1949, initially hired to teach piano and music theory. Her curiosity about the diverse backgrounds of students prompted her to question the exclusivity of Western music education. In response, she immersed herself in the musical traditions of Hawaii, the Pacific, and Asia, leading to the establishment of UH’s ethnomusicology program—one of the first of its kind in the nation.


Barbara Smith’s commitment extended well beyond her official retirement in 1982, with continued mentorship and volunteering at the university until her 90s. Her influence is vividly seen in the success of her students, including iconic Hawaii musicians Herb Ohta and Eddie Kamae.

UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno hailed the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation grant as transformative, emphasizing its role in amplifying Professor Smith’s legacy and securing the university’s future significance in the field of ethnomusicology.

R. Anderson Sutton, an ethnomusicology professor at UH and a former student of Professor Smith, expressed gratitude on behalf of fellow graduates, anticipating the continued growth and flourishing of Professor Smith’s legacy with the foundation’s generous support.


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