Opera Performer and Concert Soloist Derrick Smith Dies

November 21, 2014

More Information:
For Media Only: Helene Snihur (585-274-1057, hsnihur@esm.rochester.edu)

Baritone Derrick Smith, whose career included opera roles such as Porgy, Crown, and Jake in Porgy and Bess as well as acclaimed solo performances, died Tuesday, Nov. 18, following a heart attack.  He was 56.

Mr. Smith received his master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in 1988 and had been on the faculty of its Eastman Community Music School since 1999. He also served on the faculty of Nazareth College. He was a frequent oratorio, opera, and concert performer throughout America and Europe.

In addition to his roles in Gershwin’s opera, which he sang in the United States and abroad with the Chicago Sinfonietta, Mr. Smith was frequently called to perform the role of Joe in Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat. His operatic appearances included Leporello in Don Giovanni in Malmö, Sweden, and the title role of Eugene Onegin in Russia. He originated the role of John Tubman in the premiere production of Harriet Tubman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reprising the role at the Arturo Schomberg Center in New York City and at the Metro Theater in Syracuse, N.Y.

An outstanding oratorio and concert soloist, Mr. Smith gave acclaimed performances in Gershwin concerts at televised music festivals in Moscow and Estonia. He also performed at the International Institute of Vocal Arts in Italy and with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rochester Oratorio Society, the Long Island Symphony, and the Chamber Group of the Toronto Symphony, among others. He gave many performances of Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Brahms’s German Requiem in the Rochester area.

Peter DuBois, music director at Third Presbyterian Church and an assistant professor at Eastman, worked with Mr. Smith for various services and also performed with him in a 2006 recital at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall.  “Derrick was a wonderfully warm and caring human being, and that was clearly reflected not just in all his interactions with people but in the richness of his voice and the embracing quality of its sound,” he said.

Oboist Judith Ricker performed with Mr. Smith numerous times when he sang with the Rochester Oratorio Society. “Derrick was beautiful person and an amazing musician, and we are all richer for having known him and performed with him,” she said.

Mr. Smith sang many classical and contemporary works. He was a soloist in Jessye Norman Sings for the Healing of AIDS, held at Riverside Church in New York City and telecast live on PBS, along with Ms. Norman, Whoopi Goldberg, Elton John, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

“Everyone loved Derrick so much, he was so warm, so beautiful, so easy going, an artist of the highest caliber,” said Howard Potter, associate dean for community and continuing education at the Eastman School of Music. “His absence from our school and our lives is hard to even imagine.”

Mr. Smith trained and performed with the Glimmerglass Opera Young American Artist Program and the Brereton International Music Symposium in England, was a semi-finalist in the American Traditions Competition, and a winner of the Outstanding Young Men of America Award and the New York Vocal Artist Competition. He was also a winner of the William Warfield Scholarship. Mr. Smith and Mr. Warfield, both Rochester natives and Eastman alumni, performed and recorded together, and Mr. Smith often sang Warfield’s signature song, “Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat.

Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Merideth Hartrick Smith, and their four children, Wyatt,18; Mimi, 15;  Lily, 13; and Julia, 11. Funeral services will be held on Monday, Nov. 24, at 11 a.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 36 South Main St., Pittsford.

At Nazareth College, where Mr. Smith taught undergraduates and secondary voice students as well as survey courses, the Sunday, Nov. 23, choir concert at 3 p.m. in Linehan Chapel will be dedicated to Mr. Smith.   On Tuesday, Nov. 25, the University of Rochester’s flag will be lowered to half-staff in memory of Mr. Smith.  

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to:  The Derrick Smith Memorial Education Fund, c/o Chris Moore, Merrill Lynch, 1241 Pittsford-Victor Rd., Pittsford, N.Y. 14534.

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