Record donation of $3.5 million made to UH-Mānoa’s music department: Big Island Now

Barbara Smith. Photo courtesy: Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance

A record $3.5 million gift to the University of Hawaii at Manoa from the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation will fund the music department’s first-ever 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 UH Mānoa Emeritus Professor, who died in 2021.

“This is the first major grant from the Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation, and the board is very pleased to recognize Professor Smith’s legacy at the University of Hawaii while supporting the university’s commitment to enhancing the ethnomusicology program,” said Gregory Smith, president of the foundation and nephew of the beloved professor.

UH Mānoa’s Ethnomusicology program trains students in world music with a special focus on Asia and the Pacific. In addition to the newly established Professor Barbara Barnard Smith Chair, the fellowship provides two additional faculty positions and will support a range of enhancements to the ethnomusicology program, including student support.


“The Barbara Barnard Smith Foundation grant is truly transformative,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno. “It will build on Professor Smith’s amazing legacy and the internationally recognized ethnomusicology program she pioneered, as well as ensure UH Mānoa’s future relevance in the field. I am deeply grateful for this grant and the profound impact it will have on students, faculty, performance, and scholarship.”

An impactful legacy

Smith pioneered the field of ethnomusicology, which focuses on the study of musical traditions from around the world in their social and cultural context. Arriving at UH Mānoa as a young faculty member in 1949, Professor Smith found herself immersed in a tapestry of cultures she had not previously known. Although 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 Hawaiian, Pacific, and Asian musical traditions, which would eventually lead to the founding and development of one of the nation’s earliest ethnomusicology programs, which is now internationally recognized.


The impact of Professor Smith’s work can be seen in her students, among the earliest of whom were the legendary Hawaiian musicians Herb Ohta and Eddie Kamae. Even after her official retirement in 1982, she remained deeply involved with the music department and continued to mentor students for three more decades, well into her 90s. Graduates of the program Smith founded go on to hold influential positions in Hawaii, the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

“As a former student of Professor Smith’s and a longtime admirer of her vision and dedication to the discipline as she worked to shape it here at UH Mānoa,” said R. Anderson Sutton, UH Mānoa Professor of Ethnomusicology and a 1975 graduate. program. “I am excited and honored to be directly involved in putting this scholarship into action, attracting new faculty and new students to this special program. Along with my many fellow alumni, I can say that we are all truly grateful to the Foundation for providing the funds to see Professor Smith’s legacy continue to grow and flourish.”

UH Mānoa is committed to expanding the renowned program Smith started by training world music scholars and lecture and performance classes with a focus on Asian, Pacific, and American music.


“This outstanding grant will ensure that UH Mānoa’s ethnomusicology program will continue to take its rightful place among the best programs in the U.S. and abroad, contributing both to the advancement and understanding of the world’s musical cultures, as well as the rich and diverse musical cultures right here in Hawaii,” said Donald Womack, head of the music department. “I cannot think of a more fitting way to honor Professor Smith’s truly visionary work and her lifelong contributions to the university, the state and so much more.”

The Music Department is housed in the UH Mānoa College of Arts, Languages ​​and Letters.

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