Patti Smith (contributed by Jennifer Malone)

Patti was born in Chicago but is ubiquitous with the New York City art and early punk scene. Her mother was a jazz singer and waitress and her father, a machinist. Early artistic influences on her life were Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte, as well as poets Rimbaud, Keats, and Blake. Smith made her way to New York City in 1967 and began a prolific engagement in the Arts across disciplines. She was a member of the St Mark’s Poetry Project, a launching pad for experimental spoken word poetry. She co-wrote “Cowboy Mouth” with playwright and actor, Sam Shepard. However, her most significant relationship was with her beloved partner, roommate, and collaborator; photographer and visual artist, Robert Mapplethotrpe. Together, they began frequenting Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, which were clubs beginning to showcase proto-punk acts. The pair collaborated extensively on visual art, including painting and photography. Mapplethorpe’s iconic photos of Smith are used as the cover art of The Patti Smith Group albums, of which Horses and Easter are the most acclaimed. Her book about their relationship, “Just Kids” won the National Book Award in 2010.

Smith is noted for her whirling stage presence and wild improvisations. Her first studio album was 1975’s Horses, produced by John Cale (of the Velvet Underground), recorded at Electric Lady Studios soon after she was signed to Arista Records by Clive Davis. Smith called the album, “three-chord rock merged with the power of the word.” Anchoring the album is Smith’s radical re-imagination of Van
Morrison’s “G-L-O-R-I-A”, which incorporates her voice as a writer as well as a vocalist and eviscerates the misogynistic viewpoint of the original track, in which the eponymous young woman is something to “get” and “have”. Her ability to build on and draw out meaning from a track conceived by someone else is also evident on “Dancing Barefoot” (Easter, 1978), a song Bruce Springsteen cut without verses early in the process of his Darkness On the Edge of Town sessions. He shared a Producer and studio with Smith, who was encouraged to take the song, which she filled in lyrically and put her stamp on. It became a chart hit for Smith, who shares co-writing credit with Springsteen. They have performed it together live. Waves’ “Dancing Barefoot” has been widely covered and recorded, perhaps most notably by U2, who claim Smith as an influence on their own work. “People Have the Power ” is one of her most popular songs in concert and is a paramount example of art as a social and political expression to affect change. Smith has been a lifelong activist and rebel. She continues to perform regularly at a high level and has also had considerable success as a photographer, author, and actor as well. She is a multi-talented musician, songwriter and performing artist who is uncompromising in her work and approach to life. She is considered to be a feminist hero by many and has had a broad influence on music and popular culture that has endured for decades and continues as emerging artists are turned on to her body of work. For a great look at her life and impact, check out 2008 Documentary, “Patti Smith, Dreams of Life” and the 2018 Concert Fim, “Hores: Patti Smith and Her Band”.

Song Pick: People Have the Power

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Highlights of Patti Smith

Born: December 30, 1946
Years Active: 1967 – Present
Instrument(s): Singer, Songwriter, Guitar, Clarinet, Poet, Visual Artist, Author, Actor, Photographer
Genre(s): Punk, Proto-Punk, Art Rock,
Notable Songs: “Because the Night”, “G-L-O-R-I-A”, “Dancing Barefoot”, “People Have the Power”

Awards & Commendations

● Commander of the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres”, French Ministry of Culture (2005)
● Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Foundation Cartier pour L’Art Contemporian (2005)
● Inducted into Rock N Roll Hall of Fame (2007)
● National Book Award for “Just Kids”, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe (2010)
● Number 47 on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Artists”
● Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, The Pratt Institute (2012)
● Polar Music Prize (2011)
● International Humanities Prize conferred by Washington

Artists/Acts She Influenced

Michael Stipe, Courtney Love, U2, Sonic Youth, The Smiths, Madonna, KT Turnstall, the Florence & the
Machine song, “Patricia” is about Patti Smith

About Jennifer Malone

Jennifer is a four-time School of Rock AllStar director and has served on content and innovation boards at the corporate level over her many years with the company. Jennifer is a voice teacher who loves coaching students of all levels to perform at their personal best through personalized training, biodynamics and stage prep. She performs regularly with the bands 1976 and Hedgehog and the Fox. She has a long performing resume that includes musical theater, jazz, roots, rock and punk. She lives in Oak Park with her husband and two kids and spends her free time volunteering and engaged in social justice.