Composer and life-long educator Robert W. Smith passed away on September 21, 2023. He has over 600 publications in print, with the majority composed and arranged during his long association with Warner Bros. Publication and the Belwin catalog. He was President and CEO of RWS Music Company, exclusively distributed by C.L. Barnhouse. Ensembles around the world have performed his compositions. He is also known for his pioneering compositions for the Suncoast Sound drum corps and his 1985 show, The Florida Suite, is considered the first to exclusively feature new works of music specifically composed for a drum corps. He was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 2010. He studied composition at Troy University and returned to his alma mater as Director of Bands in 1997 and a second developing and leading the Music Industry Program beginning in 2006.
Rebecca Warren contacted some of his close friends and colleauges to share their reflections, and she included some of her favorite stories. These have been edited for space and clarity.
Clifford (Ski) Winter
Robert W. Smith’s Band Director
I met Robert in the makeshift band room of Daleville Jr. Sr. High School in 1973. The room was a normal size classroom that was partitioned by curtain to separate the math class from the band. I had no idea how much I was about to learn.
This was my first band job and at our first rehearsal, Robert came up to introduce himself. He was a short, unassuming student, and nothing stood out at first. In the fall of 1974. Robert and I were chatting, and he commented without bravado that he had perfect pitch. I thought he meant good relative pitch from playing piano since he was 3. There was a piano in my office, and I began to test him. He never missed a note. This was my first lesson.
The second lesson came while preparing for our first marching band contest in 1973 on the Troy field. Robert had learned all the trumpet parts, and our band was not strong. He volunteered to play the second part as it sounded the weakest. He did, but halfway through, I signaled him to go back to the first part. The judges commented that there was too much first trumpet.
The third is not related to band. My wife was teaching the choir, and she had Robert as the accompanist. As the choir was about to go on stage Robert suggested to Suzie that he should take the pitch for the selections up a half step to keep students from going flat in the heat of the moment. He was right, and it turned out great because young Robert could make this kind of change without practice.
The last story is that I asked Robert to write a marching band tune in the fall of 1974 for the Troy Band, The Wabash Cannonball. When we played it, I told him the bass line was wrong. Once again, I was taken to school by the young Robert W. Smith. If anyone asks what was the first composition by Robert W. Smith, you can now tell them. I sure wish I had kept that score.
Randall D. Standridge
My fondest memory of Robert happened several years ago at my first Midwest Clinic. I was helping at the Grand Mesa Music booth, and Robert came by and introduced himself. We talked for a second, and he asked if he could buy me a coffee.
We got coffees and sat down to talk about music and careers. I was surprised by how much of my music he knew. He gave me great advice on handling the pressures of the composition industry, how to work with conductors, and best practices for commissions. I asked him what I should change about my music.
“Change?” he asked, then laughed. “Randall, you don’t need to change a thing. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right path.” We talked about drum corps, life, and spouses, and then he shook my hand and said “I’ll be in touch.” And he was. Every few years, he checked in on me by phone and text. He never wanted anything from me. He just wanted to encourage me. That validation was what I needed at the time, and I never forgot it.
Founder, All National Music
In the summer of 1997, at 22, I met Robert W. Smith as he arrived at Troy University. I helped him move into his new office, which set the stage for an inspiring friendship. Soon, I invited Robert and Susan to a golf championship, forging a bond that would shape my life. While I pioneered tech platforms and social media, Robert took the helm as Director of Bands at Troy University. He became a mentor, supporting my journey in music education and industry.
Beyond his adjudications and presence at my concerts, Robert encouraged me as I moved from music education to starting a business. He became godparent to my children. Deep-sea fishing adventures created lasting memories, filled with camaraderie and laughter.
In 2019 we introduced a vision of immersive composer-based festivals. As CEO of All National Music, this collaboration aimed to celebrate educational excellence. Robert’s wisdom brought it to life. His enduring philosophy of music education infused creativity, innovation, and mentorship. Robert’s legacy lives on in the music, students, and friendships he nurtured.
Composer/Founder, Excelcia Music Publishing
It feels impossible to encapsulate what Robert W. Smith means to me and countless others. He was my teacher, mentor, and friend. If I have to pick one word to express his impact on me, it is expectation. Robert had high expectations for himself and his students. I was a young musician from small town USA, just like he was, and he saw something in me before I could see it in myself. He helped me to realize my potential by his own example, his teaching, his compositions, and how he lived his life. Robert was a change maker. As with so many others, he changed me, and any success I have had in my career goes back to Robert’s expectation that I could be more than I ever imagined. We can honor the legacy of Robert W. Smith by seeing the best in ourselves and others, and by expecting nothing but the best in all that we do.
Past President, Midwest Clinic Board of Directors
I last saw Robert in March at the American Bandmasters Association convention in Lawrence, Kansas. He sat in the first row of the assembly with a twinkle in his eye and a devilish smile, ready to ring his cowbell and shut me down if I went too long on introducing Charlotte Royall, newest member of the ABA. Robert was the Sergeant-at-Arms, responsible for keeping the meetings on time and ending rambling speeches He was the greatest at fulfilling the responsibilities of this exalted office.
Around the year 2000, I served as a contributing author for the beginning band series Band Expressions. Robert led the group assembled to craft this series. I was amazed at his brilliant intellect and practical application of all the ideas and input. I couldn’t wait to get to these gatherings because it was so rewarding and fun. I found Robert humble despite his accomplishments and observed his great and devoted love for Susan and his daughters. He was a family man. As President of the Board of Directors of The Midwest Clinic I called on Robert for advice numerous times.
Mark Custom Recording Service
Mark Recording and Robert W. Smith had a family relationship dating back to the early 1980s. Founder Vincent Morette worked with Robert when he was arranging for Suncoast Sound Drum Corps, 1985. Jerry Kelsey (1951-2023) was co-director of Suncoast Sound Drum Corps when they recorded A Florida Suite, an original and revolutionary show. As a former Drum Corps member, Vince knew Robert had a future in the business and he was right!
We worked with Robert many times over the decades, but working with him on the recording of his marching band arrangement of Michael Jackson’s Thriller was a highlight. This still may be the single largest selling marching band arrangement in history. While Robert was a superior composer and arranger of music, he was an even better human being
Robert was always a gentleman and never forgot his past. He grew older, but not “up.” He was serious yet knew how to enjoy life. Everyone knows how much fun we had with Robert, but there was one annual event that was the ultimate in fun – Greek Night – the Friday night dinner after the Midwest Clinic. This gathering at The Parthenon started in the early 1980s and continued until the restaurant closed in 2019. Robert was always boisterous, having fun with friends from the past and present. We will always remember the great times we had with Robert W.
President, Alabama Bandmasters Association
How do you pay tribute to someone you’ve known for 48 years? I met Robert Smith at Troy State University on the first day of Music Theory I, where, by chance, we sat next to each other. Throughout the next four years he became my little brother through Tau Beta Sigma/Kappa Kappa Psi, we worked on different projects, and become the dearest of friends. As adults, our children played together, and we enjoyed great meals, beach trips, and fireside chats. Early on I knew that he was truly someone special, and for 48 years I watched and listened as he made his everlasting mark on music education and the lives of thousands.
Robert Smith was a lifelong supporter of the small school band program, as it provided him with his very humble beginnings. Of the many speeches, clinics, and conducting events that Robert presented, and that I was privileged to be part of, the one I am most grateful for is the band banquet for my Wicksburg High School Band in 2022. Wicksburg High School is located in a small rural community in the southeastern corner of Alabama and is eight miles from Daleville, where Robert grew up.
When I called to invite him, he accepted without hesitation. That evening, he spoke of many things, but one of the most poignant was how he grew up in the same red clay as those Wicksburg students and told them, “The size of your hometown does not determine your destination. It’s the size of your dreams.” Robert shared with those students how music had given him an avenue to travel to all parts of the world, and the venue to work with some of the world’s most famous musicians. He spoke about the language and beauty of music and how it speaks what words cannot. He connected with all of those in attendance including a well known philanthropist, our Superintendent, Principal, future band directors, and many parents. Everyone left that evening changed because of the true inspiration he gave to all of us.
Robert Smith was a lifelong teacher to students of all ages. One of my favorite moments was in February 2022 during the SEUS Band Clinic in Troy. Prior to one of the concerts, I sat behind him as he shared his knowledge and advice with a young aspiring composer who had presented her latest work for him to review. He believed in investing in children through teaching and sharing his musical gifts.
Robert Smith was always the forward thinker, from his young days of composing and writing the first original music DCI show, to the creation and development of a highly successful Music Industry program at Troy University. One of Robert’s last clinics was this past June at the Alabama Bandmasters Association’s Summer Conference. Earlier in the year, Robert had asked what he could do to help me as I began my time as President of the ABA, and I quickly replied, “Please be the Keynote Speaker at our conference.” Once again, he accepted without hesitation.
Robert brought his forward thinking ideas to his presentation at our conference. He spoke of the responsibility that we as music educators have in our 21st Century classrooms and the importance of embracing this responsibility to assure there is music education in the future. He set the tone that we must be creative in our instruction, and how we must redefine the relevance for our collective future.
Director, Smiths Station Community Band
I have performed many of Robert’s compositions with students over the years, but Inchon has always been a favorite. This is not just because of the incredible music, but because Robert wrote it for his dad, who passed away just before the piece premiered with the Troy University Symphony Band.
I thought I knew everything about the song and the rationale behind the composition after performing Inchon multiple times, but Robert offered to come rehearse with my newly founded community band last year. Just before the rehearsal took place, Robert found he couldn’t attend but paid a visit through a Zoom call. They were doing a pretty good job with the piece for a group of volunteers that rehearsed once a week, but after listening to Robert for an hour, they gave an amazing performance the following week. His stories set the band on fire, and they played their hearts out that night. The band has members from all walks of life, ages 13-81, and you wouldn’t believe the musicianship expressed by this group. Robert truly advanced the cause of music education and was an incredible motivator. I was blessed to call him my friend.
I first met Robert when a mutual friend, Lori Hart, invited me to spend the afternoon with Robert and family on the beach in Destin, Florida.
“You mean THE Robert W. Smith?” I knew Lori and Robert had been in college together but never dreamed I would meet him in that way. Though we were nearly the same age, I acted like a star-struck teenager at first. The conversation quickly turned to life, dreams, goals, and band. I was amazed at how he really listened to me and was interested in what I had to say. Robert had that way about him. He always made me feel as if we were colleagues. It didn’t matter that he was an accomplished composer, arranger, publisher, guest conductor, collegiate professor, and known the world over. He viewed both of us as music educators who taught band to help make the lives of our students better. That’s what Robert did best. He helped make the musical lives of those around him better.
Over the years I spent other special times with Robert. I celebrated my 40th birthday at All-State with Robert and crew in tow. Greek Night with Mark Morette and company at Midwest included fun times and Christmas caroling with Robert. It was a great joy to watch Robert and how proud he was of Susan, Savannah, and Madison. We all should be grateful they shared him with us. As band directors, we hope that we make a difference. Robert W. Smith made a difference.
Photos on website of Robert W. Smith courtesy of Willis Glassgow, UNC Pembroke