Brooks Smith, classical piano accompanist and professor, was born on August 19, 1912, in McAllen, Texas. Smith began studying the piano when he was four years old. He attended schools in the McAllen area, and his extraordinary musical talent earned him a full scholarship to Juilliard. He studied with Josef and Rosina Lhevinne. Smith developed a passion for chamber music and the art of artist accompaniment. Upon graduation from Juillard in 1939, he performed with Mack Harrell, George Britton, Risë Stevens, and others. Instead of pursuing a solo career, he embarked on a path as an accompanist collaborating with other musicians.
After service in World War II, he partnered with baritone Mack Harrell, director of the Aspen Music School and Festival. Smith both taught and performed at Aspen for many years and accompanied renowned singers such as Adele Addison and Benita Valenta. In 1954 acclaimed violinist Jascha Heifetz asked Smith to be his exclusive accompanist, resulting in a longtime collaboration that included national and international concert tours, a television performance on NBC-TV, and a series of recordings. Smith accompanied Heifetz until the violinist’s last concert in October 1972.
Smith joined the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, to head their new department of accompanying in 1966. He taught there until 1972, when he accepted a position on the faculty of the University of Southern California. He retired in 1988. In 1996 the Eastman School established the Brooks Smith Fellowship in Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music in Brooks’s honor. He died on October 31, 2000, at a hospital in Covina, California. Brooks was buried in his hometown of McAllen and was survived by his sister, Margaret Proctor of Pharr, Texas, along with two nephews and a niece.