Howard E. Smither, James Gordon Hanes Professor of the Humanities in Music (emeritus) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, age 94, died February 1, 2020, at Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill.
Born on November 15, 1925, in Pittsburg, KS, Dr. Smither was the son of Elbert S. and Ethel (Schwab) Smither. He is survived by his wife Ann M. Woodward, son Thomas A. (Charles Sands), nieces, and nephews.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a dance-band trumpet player, he received a BA, magna cum laude, from Hamline University (MN); MA in musicology from Cornell University (NY); did post-graduate studies at the University of Munich; and completed the PhD in musicology at Cornell University.
He served on the music faculties at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1968-1990), Tulane University (1963-1968), University of Kansas (1960-1963), Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music (1955-60), and was John Bird Professor of Music at the University of Cardiff, Wales (1993-1995).
Dr. Smither was an eminent musicologist, scholar, educator, and author. He published the 4-volume A History of the Oratorio (UNC Press, 1977-2000); Oratorios of the Italian Baroque, Vol. I: Antecedents of the Oratorio: Sacred Dramatic Dialogues, 1600-1630 (Concentus Musicus 1983). He was supervising editor of 15 volumes of Oratorios of the Italian Baroque (Concentus Musicus 1983-); editor and translator of poems in Alfred Einstein’s The Italian Madrigal (1971); music review editor of Notes, the Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association (1967-69); member of the editorial board of Detroit Monographs in Musicology (1971-87); chairman of the editorial board of Early Music Masterworks: Editions and Commentaries (1978-83); member of the editorial board of Videodisc Music Series, National Endowment of the Humanities (1982-86). In addition to numerous articles on oratorio, he earlier did seminal work on rhythmic theory.
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers awarded him the Deems Taylor Award in 1978 for Volume 2 of his Oratorio History; he was awarded grants on two occasions by the National Endowment for the Humanities, two Fulbright grants, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
He served as President of the American Musicological Association (1980-82) and as that Association’s representative to the American Council of Learned Societies (1984-88). For many years, Dr. Smither was a lecturer and chairman for panels at regional, national, and international meetings, conferences, and symposiums.
An aficionado of jazz, Dr. Smither returned to an early love of the trumpet, and in retirement, enjoyed playing jazz with various groups, pleasing and amazing his many friends, family and audiences with his warmth and expertise. Always interested in the visual arts, he painted in acrylic, but his most compelling works were his latest, extensive digital paintings.
Funeral will be held at the Chapel Hill Zen Center with burial at the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary.
Memorial donations may be made to any of the following tax-deductible organizations: Chapel Hill Zen Center, P.O. Box 16302, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Carol Woods Charitable Fund (designated for music or Resident Assistance Fund), 750 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514; Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, 32 Mineral Dust Drive, Mills River, NC 28806.
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