She soon realized that that the program, then almost exclusively focused on Western art and Musics, should not be limited to the music of only one of Hawaii's multi-ethnic communities. As a pianist, she decided to approach other musics in the same way she had western music and in 1955 began Japanese koto lessons with Kay Mikami.
In 1956, she went to Japan to study with Miyagi Michio. In the 1960's, to better understand similarities and differences in East Asian musics and their aesthetics, she also studied the koto as played in Japanese gagaku and in the Okinawan tradition, as well as the Korean kayageum and the Chinese chen. In addition, she learned various drum traditions of Korea and Japan.
With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, she traveled to thirteen Asian countries to collect books, scores, and recordings of traditional and contemporary music. The university's first course in non-Western music, based on the material she had collected in Asia, was taught by Professor Smith in 1957. In 1959, she and her colleague in music education, Dorothy Kahananui Gillet, taught a course for elementary school teachers, "Pacific and Asian Music in Music Education."
During the planning stages for the East-West Center, established at the university in 1960, Professor Smith was an influential advocate for performing arts; during the 1970's she conducted training programs for Asians and Pacific Islanders at the center. In 1963, at the request of Micronesians studying at the university, she conducted field research in the Trust Territory.
At UH she developed new courses that focused on the study of music and the relationship it shares with the development of a culture, a study that came to be known as ethnomusicology. She also established the master's degree program in ethnomusicology in 1960 followed by the PhD program in 1992. Today the ethnomusicology program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa is one of the world's most widely celebrated. She formally retired from UH in 1982. In 1983, Professor Smith was honored by the City of Honolulu as a "pioneer" for her numerous contributions to the artistic and cultural life of Hawaii. In 2007 she received the Honpa Hongwanji Living Treasures Award, and the 2008 Governor's Award for Distinguished Achievement in Culture Arts and Humanities. Barbara Barnard Smith received the Alfred Preis Honor in 2018 for her lifetime support of the arts and community building in Hawaii. In 2009 she received the prestigious Koizumi Fumio Prize in Ethnomusicology.
Professor Smith took her greatest pleasure from the contributions to ethnomusicology being made by her former students, as well as in her continuing contacts with scholars and performance traditions.
She is survived by her Sister-In-Law Janice Petit Willis, nephew Jeffrey P. Smith, niece Marilyn Smith Cassidy, niece Barbara Smith Stupay, nephew Gregory H. Smith, as well as 2 grandnieces and 6 grandnephews, 5 great-grandnephews and 1 great-grandniece.
She is preceded in death by both her parents, her brother Rodney Hobson Smith and her sister Helen Margaret Smith.
At her request there will be no service and her ashes scattered to the sea in Hawaii.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to University of Hawaii Foundation, (BBS Ethnomusicology), East-West Center Arts Program (BB Smith), or a charity of your choice.
Arrangements Provided By: Oahu Mortuary