ROCHESTER, NY Brooks Smith, professor of piano and accompanying at the Eastman School of Music from 1966-1972 and perhaps the most well known and beloved American pianist-accompanist of his generation, died Tuesday, October 31, 2000, in California after a brief illness. He was 88.
Born in McAllen, Texas, in 1912, Smith started his piano studies at the age of 4, embarking on a lifelong love affair with the piano. Following his graduation from high school and an additional year of private study, he auditioned at the Juilliard School, where he was awarded a full scholarship to study with Rosina and Josef Lhevinne. During his student years, Smith became increasingly interested in Lieder and in the vast world of chamber music, and began doing a great deal of accompanying. Although the Lhevinnes tried to steer him toward a solo career, Smith became more interested in the collaborative process and began earning his living as a collaborative pianist while still a student in New York. After graduating from Juilliard in 1939, he continued playing for singers Risë Stevens, Julius Huehn, Mack Harrell, and George Britton while developing an interest in the string repertoire as well.
After serving in World War II, Smith returned to America and eventually was engaged by baritone Mack Harrell, then the director of the newly organized Aspen Music School and Festival. He began a lengthy association with that famed institution, teaching and performing there for many years and collaborating with many renowned artists, including Adele Addison, Jan de Gaetani, Raya Gargousova, Lynn Harrell, Zara Nelsova, Eudice Shapiro, Benita Valente, and the Juilliard and American Quartets.
In the early 1950s, Smith was selected by the great violinist Jascha Heifetz to be his exclusive pianist. This led to 20 years of collaboration and performances in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America, as well as a series of recordings and a nationally televised performance on NBC-TV.
At the invitation of former Director Walter Hendl, Smith came to the Eastman School in 1966 to open a department of accompanying. He taught and performed at Eastman until 1972, when he took a position at the University of Southern California, joining Gwendolyn Koldofsky in teaching piano, chamber music, and accompanying until his retirement in 1988 at age 75.
"We all are saddened by the loss of this wonderful pianist, superlative collaborative partner, and good friend," said Jean Barr, professor of piano accompanying and chamber music at Eastman and Smiths former colleague at USC. "His death represents the passing of an era."
To honor Smiths extraordinary career and impact, the Eastman School established the Brooks Smith Fellowship in Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music in 1996. It is awarded based on audition to an incoming Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music major, and recognizes the characteristics exemplified by the beloved musician: enthusiasm for the art of accompanying, musicality, strong pianistic technique, and excellent training.
Smith is survived by his sister Margaret Proctor of Pharr, TX; nephews Fred and Brooks Proctor; and a niece Joanna Smith. He was buried November 4 in his hometown.
Note to editors: A photograph of Mr. Smith is available by e-mail; Jean Barr is available for interviews.
Mr. Smith lived in Hacienda Heights, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles.
He passed away at a hospital in Covina, CA.