Reference Entry

Smith, Barbara

Claranne Perkins

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Smith, Barbara

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entrepreneur, lifestyle expert, author, and model, was born Barbara Smith near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William H. Smith, a steel worker, and Florence Claybrook Smith, a part-time maid. She has described her parents as the original Bob Villa and Martha Stewart, referring to the television handyman and the multimedia domestic guru, respectively, and was greatly influenced by the home her parents established. She assisted them in the family's vegetable and flower gardens. While in high school, Smith studied cooking, sewing, nutrition and fashion. During the same time, she took classes at the John Robert Powers modeling school in Pittsburgh on the weekend. She completed her modeling studies shortly before she graduated from high school. After graduation, Smith moved to Pittsburgh where she worked hard to launch her modeling career. It was not easy, but in the late 1960s, after a national search, TransWorld Airlines selected Smith as its first African American ground hostess—Ruth Carol Taylor was the first African American flight attendant, for Mohawk Airlines in 1958. During this time, Smith also returned to school to learn to teach modeling and she applied to model in the Ebony Fashion Fair. She was finally selected in 1969 after her third attempt and moved to New York City.In 1971, she signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency and began using her first initial when she would call the agency for assignments as “B. Smith.” While represented by the agency, she did runway modeling, appeared on fifteen magazine covers, including five for Essence and one for Ebony, and numerous television commercials and catalogs. In July 1976, she became the first African American model to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine. As a model, she lived in Paris, France Milan, Italy Vienna, Austria, and Los Angeles, California, in addition to New York. Traveling around the world allowed her to hone her cooking skills by adding international cuisine to her repertoire.As she neared the end of her modeling career, Smith, whose love of cooking and entertaining friends created an interest in running a restaurant, began developing her skills by first being a hostess at Ark's America, a fashionable restaurant in Manhattan. Later, she became a floor manager at the restaurant. In the mid-1980s she formed a partnership with Michael Weinstein, owner of Ark and opened her first restaurant, B. Smith's, in November 1986 in Manhattan's theatre district. In 1988 she married Donald Anderson and launched B. Smith with Style, a syndicated television show. The marriage did not last, but as of 2008 the television show was still available on cable networks. In 1992, she married Dan Gasby, a television producer, and adopted his daughter Dana. In October 1994, she opened a second B. Smith's restaurant in the refurbished Union Station in Washington, D.C. The next year, Smith extended her empire by publishing B. Smith's Cooking and Entertaining for Friends, the first such book aimed at the African American audience. In 1997, she opened a seasonal B. Smith's in Sag Harbor, New York, where she had a summer home. In 1999 she relocated the flagship Manhattan restaurant to Restaurant Row. In October of the same year she published her second book B. Smith: Rituals and Celebrations.By 2001, Smith expanded her enterprise by launching a home décor line exclusively for Bed, Bath & Beyond. The line included bedding, bath towels, rugs and wall art. In 2005, she became the face of Betty Crocker cornbread mix and in 2006 deepened her relationship with General Mills by becoming the spokesperson for “Serving Up Soul,” an African-American marketing initiative. In March, 2006, she published her third book Food that Says Welcome; Simple Recipes to Spark the Spirit of Hospitality.By the first decade of the twenty-first century, Smith was recognized as a “lifestyle expert” and in some quarters called a black Martha Stewart. In 2007 she launched a furniture collection, “At Home with B. Smith,” with Clayton Marcus, a division of La-Z-Boy Corporation. The forty-piece upholstered furniture collection, the first designed by an African American woman for national distribution, included three groupings called Central Park South, Sag Harbor, and Mosaic Treasures. The groupings reflect Smith's homes throughout her career. She also joined forces with the Journey for Control campaign. The campaign supported by Merck & Co. featured Smith preparing old dishes in new healthy ways to make them diabetes friendly. With three family members suffering from diabetes, Smith was familiar with the needs for healthy presentations of favored dishes.In April 2008 the “B. Smith Furniture Gallery Program” was launched. The home furnishings accessories supplement the upholstered furniture groupings introduced in 2007. A second furniture collection was introduced in Fall 2008, which added a fourth grouping, “Glam,” to her other upholstered groupings. In early 2009 she was scheduled to publish a fourth book and launch a women's jewelry line in conjunction with Zalemark Inc.

Reference Entry.  884 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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