Pianist Ruth Bingaman Smith, the daughter of William Lee and Anna L. Bingaman, was born on August 29, 1894, in Columbus, Ohio. Around 1903 or 1904 her family moved to San Antonio, Texas, where her father secured employment with Thomas Goggan and Brothers Music Store. Ruth Bingaman began her piano study with Carl Hahn, San Antonio Symphony Orchestra conductor, in 1905 and soon made her debut performing Beethoven’s C Major Concerto at Saengerfest at Beethoven Hall. In 1911 she gave her first formal recital with renditions of pieces by Beethoven and Mendelssohn at St. Mary’s Parochial School. Her training included instruction under composer John Steinfeldt. She graduated from San Antonio High School in 1913 and debuted with the San Antonio Symphony in 1915.
Shortly after this time she moved to New York City where she studied with pianist Ernest Hutcheson and Alberto Jonas. In 1919 Bingaman married Harrison Herman and moved to New Haven, Connecticut. She continued her musical training at Yale University. In 1921 she played at Carnegie Recital Hall, her New York debut, and then toured the United States with Metropolitan Opera singers and fellow Texans Dreda Aves and Rafaelo Díaz. She achieved some of her greatest recognition as a featured recording artist for the Welte-Mignon DeLuxe Reproducing Roll Corporation in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Her fourteen recordings included two songs by John Steinfeldt, “The Fountain” and “Chanson d’Amour,” and “Turkey in the Straw” by Texan David Guion.
During World War II she had a weekly radio program out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Upon the death of her husband, who was killed in action in Belgium in December 1944, she moved back to San Antonio. She married Harrison Smith in 1948 and moved to Charleston, West Virginia. After their divorce she returned permanently to San Antonio in 1957 and continued to perform at recitals and on radio programs and also engaged in writing poetry. Her “Poeme Heroique” for cello and piano earned her a Texas Composers League award. Ruth Bingaman Smith was honored in the Hall of Fame of the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors’ Association (AMICA). She was also an Honorary Life Director of the Tuesday Musical Club, held memberships in the Yale Alumni Association and Daughters of the American Revolution, and was a founding member of Man and Beast, Inc. On February 23, 1991, at the University of Texas Barker Texas History Center (now Dolph Briscoe Center for American History), she gave her last public performance and was honored for her work in classical music by a proclamation sent by Governor Ann Richards. Ruth Bingaman Smith died in San Antonio on May 15, 1996. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.