Hale Smith

Hale Smith straddled the worlds of jazz and classical music as a composer, editor, performer, arranger, and educator. Self-described as “one of America’s most famous unknown composers,” Smith's won the 1973 Cleveland Arts Prize for Music, was designated to the New York Council on the Arts, and received various other awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Photo: Marilyn Harris, A Tribute to Hale Smith

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    Born on June 29, 1925, in Cleveland, Hale Smith began studying piano at age 7. He began composing his own works, and by age 16 his compositions caught the interest of Duke Ellington. After serving in the Army (1943-5), he enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied composition with the serialist Marcel Dick and music theory with Ward Lewis. He received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1950 and a Master of Music degree in 1952. That same year his song cycle “The Valley Wind” (originally titled “Four Songs”) won the music licensing organization BMI’s first student composer award. His alma mater eventually awarded him an honorary doctorate for his achievements. Along with notable orchestral and lyrical compositions, Smith created jingles and music for radio, film, television, and theater. 

    After moving to New York in 1958, Smith found work as an editor and consultant at several music publishing houses (E.B. Marks, C.F. Peters, Frank Music Corp., and Sam Fox Music Publishers). He taught at the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University until 1970, and spent the rest of his teaching career as a music professor at the University of Connecticut-Storrs. Hale also worked as a consultant on music copyright infringement cases, representing popular artists such as Paul Simon and serving as an expert witness in Lennon v. Levy.

    The extensive list of distinguished musicians who have performed Hale Smith’s music extends to opposite poles of the musical world. From jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Chico Hamilton, his arrangements of spirituals have also been performed by sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. His work has additionally been performed by the notable John Coltrane, Joe Lovano, Ahmad Jamal, Chico Hamilton, Betty Carter and Eric Dolphy, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Symphony Orchestra, and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London. 

    Smith made it known that he wanted his work, and that of his black peers, to appear on programs with that of Beethoven, Mozart, and Copland. “We don’t even have to be called Black,” he wrote in an article in 1971. “When we stand for our bows, that fact will become clear when it should after the music has made its own impact”. 

    Andrew Smith, Sophia Janevic

    This profile was created in 2022 as part of The Savvy Singer, an EXCEL Lab course at the The University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and a collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative.

    This biography was edited in 2023 as part of the Song of America Fellowship Program, a project of the Classic Song Research Initiative between the Hampsong Foundation and the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.



    Caldwell, Hansonia, and Hale Smith. “A Man of Many Parts.” The Black Perspective in Music 3, no. 1 (1975): 59–76. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214381.

    Grimes, William. “Hale Smith, Who Broke Borders of Classical and Jazz, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/28/arts/music/28smith.html. 

    Harris, Marilyn. A Tribute to Composer HALE SMITH, http://marilynharris.com/HaleSmithObitNMB.jpg

    Related Information



    How Sweet the Sound

    (Margaret Bonds, Henry T. Burleigh, Maria Thompson Corley, Jacqueline Hairston, Moses Hogan, Hall Johnson, Thomas H. Kerr, Betty Jackson King, Robert L. Morris, Hale Smith, Spiritual and George Walker)


    Sheet Music

    Beyond the Rim of Day

    Composer(s): Hale Smith

    Song(s): 1. March Moon, 2. Troubled Woman, 3. To a Little Lover-lass, Dead

    Voice Type: High Voice

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    Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers, Compiled by Willis C. Patterson

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    Song(s): Amazing Grace (H. Leslie Adams)
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    Stars (Harriette Davison Watkins)
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    Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi (Camille Nickerson)
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    Voice Type: 36 Songs are for High Voice - Medium to High Voice
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    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Three Patterson Lyrics: For Soprano and Piano

    Composer(s): Hale Smith

    Song(s): Night Peace, To a Weathercock, The World Bows Down to Beauty (Sonnet I)

    Voice Type: Soprano

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