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Columbia College Chicago
Irene Britton Smith papers

Irene Britton Smith papers

Smith, Irene Britton

Papers, dated circa 1930 to 1990 and undated, predominantly manuscripts of her musical compositions and composition exercises, plus a scrapbook reflecting her musical and professional careers, and correspondence.

22 boxes

Donated by Eva S. Butler on behalf of Irene Britton Smith, August 1998. Copyrights conveyed to the CBMR by Leon Despres, executor of Irene Britton Smith's estate, October 8, 1999.

Biographical note:

Irene Britton Smith (1907–1999) was born and educated in Chicago, where she attended Wendell Phillips High School and the Chicago Normal School. Music and music composition were her avocation. Professionally, she taught reading in the Chicago public schools for forty years. During her summer vacations, she studied music in Chicago, receiving a BM from the American Conservatory of Music in 1946 and a MM from DePaul University in 1956. She also studied composition at Juilliard, at Tanglewood, and with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. Smith herself played violin, piano, and organ, and she served as a church musician. After her retirement from teaching, she was active as a docent for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youth concerts.

Scope note:

Most of the collection consists of Smith's compositions, dated late 1940s to 1950s, with most undated. She wrote music for orchestra, solo violin, and piano, as well as choral works, spiritual arrangements, and art songs. Some of her works appear to be intended for children and were perhaps written for her students. Her papers contain a folder of poems and texts she apparently considered for musical settings, as well as correspondence from Countee Cullen concerning her request to set his poem “Leaves.”

Her correspondents include Chicago composer Florence B. Price and Stella Roberts, her composition teacher at the American Conservatory of Music. Most of the correspondence she kept is in her scrapbook, along with programs from concerts in which her works were performed and other items about her activities as a teacher and musician.

In addition to her scrapbook, she kept a file of clippings and programs on composer and conductor Margaret Harris (1943–2000), also a Chicago native. The file on Harris and other loose items laid into the back of the scrapbook, plus items received separately, are filed in separate files.

An interesting component of the collection are the various composition exercises and reworkings of compositions by other composers that Smith retained after her studies. These, along with her class notes, which she also kept, would be useful for a study of her development as a composer, as would a typed draft of an undated letter to Roberts in which Smith states her ideas about music.

The collection also contains her textbooks and books on theory and composition, which have been inventoried, and her collection of music by other composers, some of which date from the 1920s and 1930s. Music by black composers and association copies are listed in the full finding aid, available as a PDF. Appended to the collection are 5 boxes of published music not by black composers which have been filed alphabetically by composer but are not inventoried.