Gregg Smith (1931-2016)
Composer, Conductor, Teacher
Gregg Smith was a noted conductor and gifted composer who contributed greatly to the development of contemporary music through the formation of his chamber choir and other musical activities. Born in Chicago in 1931, Smith enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he studied composition with Leonard Stein and Lukas Foss, and conducting with Raymond Moreman and Fritz Zweig. By 1956, Smith had earned a BA in Music and a Master's degree in composition. Subsequently, he taught at Ithaca College, the State University of New York (S.U.N.Y.), Stony Brook, the Peabody Conservatory, Barnard College, and at the Manhattan School of Music.
In 1955, he founded the professional chamber choir known as the Gregg Smith Singers (GSS), at first based in Los Angeles and then moving to New York in 1968. With GSS, he won Grammy awards for Best Choral Performance in 1966, 1968 and 1970 for "Ives: Music for Chorus", "The Glory of Gabrieli" and "New Music of Ives", respectively. This remarkably skilled ensemble has been responsible for many premieres of contemporary works, as well as revivals of early American music. Their recording series, entitled America Sings, traced American choral music from 1620 to the present. There were also many (now out of print) recordings made on the group's own label, GSS Recordings. Smith also worked as an editor for G. Schirmer publishers to put out a series of contemporary American choral works under the Gregg Smith Choral Series.
Smith's composition interests primarily focused on the creation of vocal music. His output included three children’s operas; about 110 choral works, including the 1996 William Strickland commission Earth Requiem for the Washington National Cathedral, The Continental Harmonist, a ballet based on William Billings for Chorus and Small Orchestra, 3 Magnificats, a Jazz Mass, more than 50 songs, 25 instrumental works for chamber ensembles and over 200 choral arrangements— a total of nearly 400 works of which about 100 found their way onto recordings. His musical language was chiefly oriented toward tonal expression, but he employed serialist procedures, speech, and extended vocal techniques to achieve certain effects. Gregg Smith died of a heart attack in July of 2016, in Bronxville, New York. A more extensive bio can be found at www.greggsmithsingers.com.