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Gregg Smith Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 19 Apr 2019

Biographical History

Gregg Smith (1931-2016) was an American composer and choral conductor who exerted a profound influence on American choral music.

Born in Chicago, he studied music at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he earned a bachelor's (1954) and master's degree (1956). He founded a number of choral groups, associations, and festivals, including the Gregg Smith Singers in 1955, a Grammy Award-winning group "renowned for its rich vocal blend, flawless intonation and clarity" which continues to record and perform both nationally and internationally; the Long Island Symphonic Choral Association (LISCA) in 1968, which he led for 40 years; and the Adirondack Festival of American Music (1973), held annually for more than 30 years. A prolific composer, Smith produced more than 400 works for chorus, orchestra, and the theater and was the composer in residence for St. Peter's Church in Manhattan from 1988. He also taught, serving as head of the choral program at Ithaca College for many years.

According to Dennis Keene, artistic director of the Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra and for many years an organist with the Gregg Smith Singers, Smith was "one of the biggest chapters in American choral history. His dedication to the American music of his own time was unparalleled. It is no exaggeration to say that he did more than anyone to promote and support contemporary American choral composition."

[Biographical sketch adapted from Smith's obituary in the New York Times, 15 Jul 2016.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Gregg Smith Papers consists of compositions, correspondence, memorabilia, and published material. Taken as a whole, the collection provides an overview of the creative output of one of America's most prolific composers.

Compositions form the vast majority of the collection. In the donor's inventory provided with the collection, compositions were divided into five categories; these categories have been retained with the exception of splitting out Operas into a separate series. Descriptions of material in the inventory below have, with minor edits for consistency, been taken almost entirely from that inventory.

Large orchestral/choral works contains larger, longer, and/or more complex compositions. Earth Requiem, for example, a one-hour piece commissioned by the Cathedral Choral Society of Washington DC in 1997, has 22 movements; calls for a large chorus, symphony orchestra, solo quartet and children's choir; and takes its text not only from the Latin Requiem Mass but also from poems by Walt Whitman and e e cummings, and Iroquois and Navajo prayers. Beware of the Soldier was written for George Bragg and the Texas Boys Choir in May of 1969; Smith described it as

...a reflection of two aspects of mankind — childhood and innocence (as exemplified by those wonderful music-making boys) and 'manhood' and the warrior complex (the male chorus). There is a third important element which focuses the above toward the futility of war -- that of the elegies (sung by a solo voice).

[Quote taken from liner notes for New World Records LP.] Other compositions in this series include magnificats, madrigals, and pieces based on numerous American poets and writers.

Large symphonic works, Christmas and folk contains choral arrangements of traditional carols and holiday church music (Festival of Carols, Suite of Antiphonal Carols) as well as Smith's Jazz Mass for St. Peter's and a choral arrangement of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. Also in this series are pieces based on American folk songs, such as Festival of Folks Songs and Old Folks Quadrille (based on the music of Stephen Foster).

Operas contains original operas, operettas, or musicals by Smith. In some cases Smith created both text and music (The Other Wise Man, Rip Van Winkle) while others were a collaboration, with someone else writing the lyrics and libretto -- for example, the song cycle Pretty Good Company was based on the epigrams of Rosalind Smith's cousin Gomer Rees. Smith often collaborated with friend and poet Kim Rich.

Orchestral/choral works, miscellaneous contains smaller and/or less complex pieces. A wide range of styles and source material are represented, including classical (Brass Quintet, Shakespeare madrigals), sacred (Gloria for Two Choirs, Offertorium, Exultate Deo), American poetry (A Child's Garden of Verses), folk songs of many countries (England, Israel, Jamaica, Wales), and Native American (a choral setting of Chief Seattle's famous speech in 1854).

Popular song arrangements and compositions contains Smith's arrangements of popular works by others. Included here are settings of pieces by Nat King Cole, Stephen Foster, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Victor Herbert.

Unpublished choral manuscripts contains a variety of pieces in various stages of completion. As with the other series, many different styles and source materials are represented: traditional songs (I ride old paint, Es ist ein schnee gefallen, B'rohos shel Hanukah); sacred music (psalms, hymns, etc.), poems and writings by American and other authors (Five Sandburg songs, Mark Twain madrigals); and events of the day (Election of 1968, 9/11/2001). There are also a few purely instrumental piece such as "Fugetto for solo sax" and "Suite for harp."

Correspondence is mostly with publishers (Earthsongs, Schirmer) and individuals at various recording companies (e.g., John McClure of Columbia Records). Much of it relates to a European tour in 1967, which encompassed the recording of several pieces in Zurich for CBS records.

Memorabilia contains calendars and itineraries spanning more than 20 years, along with clippings, programs, and receipts/expenses from tours in the US, the Far East, and Scandinavia. Of particular interest is a set of drawings and poems created by the Adirondack Children's Chorus in 1995, as a gift to Smith for his many years of work with them. Smith later adapted the poems into a new choral work, Adirondack Children's Songs (1997).

Published octavos contains Smith's library of published editions of his work. Some are marked and/or include questions from the publisher, corrections, annotations, notes, etc.

Arrangement of the Collection

Series are arranged alphabetically by title. Compositions are subdivided by type, as detailed above, and within each type are arranged alphabetically by title. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by type. Published octavos are alphabetical by title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

See also the Gregg Smith Singers Recordings and the Gregg Smith Singers Collection.

Subject Headings


Biggs, E. Power (Edward Power), 1906-1977.
Hill, Paul, 1933 May 8-
McClure, John.
Norton, Kim Rich.
Smith, Gregg.

Corporate Bodies

Adirondack children's choir.
Gregg Smith Singers.
Gregg Smith Vocal Quartet.
Texas Boys' Choir.

Associated Titles

Earth requiem.
Jazz mass for Saint Peter's.


Choral conductors -- United States.
Choral music -- United States.
Choruses, Secular (Mixed voices)
Composers -- United States.
Folk music -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Compact discs.
Floppy discs.
Librettos (documents for music)
Programs (documents)
Scores (documents for music)
Sound recordings.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Gregg Smith Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Rosalind Rees Smith, 2019.

Table of Contents




Published octavos