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Patti Smith's Biography

Patti Smith: Patti Smith. Detroit, Michigan. 1995

Patti Smith. Detroit, Michigan. 1995

Patti Smith is considered a poet whose energy and vision found their voice in the most powerful medium of our culture — music. As one of the early pioneers of New York City's dynamic punk scene, Smith has been creating her unique blend of poetic rock and roll for over 35 years. She was born in Chicago in 1946, the eldest of four siblings, and was raised in South Jersey. From an early age, she gravitated toward the arts and human rights issues. She studied at Glassboro State Teachers College and then migrated to New York City in 1967. There, she teamed up with art student Robert Mapplethorpe, and the two encouraged each other's work processes. Mapplethorpe pursued painting and drawing, while Smith focused on poetry.

In February 1971, Smith had her first public reading at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery on the Lower East Side, accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. That same year she co-wrote and performed the play Cowboy Mouth with playwright Sam Shepard. Continuing to write and perform her poetry around New York, including at the legendary Max's Kansas City, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye combined their collective and varied musical roots and her improvised poetry. Their independent single release Hey Joe/Piss Factory featured Tom Verlaine. The trio helped to open up a restricted music scene that centered on the club CBGB in New York City. After recruiting guitarist Ivan Kral, they played CBGB for eight weeks in the spring of 1975, and then they added drummer Jay Dee Daugherty to the group. Smith described their work as "three chords merged with the power of the word." Smith was signed by Clive Davis to his fledgling Arista label and recorded four albums: Horses (produced by John Cale), Radio Ethiopia (produced by Jack Douglas), Easter (produced by Jimmy Iovine), which included her top twenty hit "Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and Wave (produced by Todd Rundgren).

In October 1979, Smith retired from the public eye and moved to Detroit with Fred "Sonic" Smith. In 1980, they married, and they went on to have two children and write songs together with no regret for the self-imposed exile from show business. In 1988, they recorded Dream of Life (produced by Fred "Sonic" Smith and Jimmy Iovine). The album included the classic anthem "People Have the Power," which the two wrote while she did the dinner dishes. It combined his White Panther polemics with her revolutionary spirit. It also marked Patti Smith's final collaboration with three of her closest companions, all of whom met with untimely deaths: Robert Mapplethorpe, who photographed her for the cover; Richard Sohl, who provided all of the keyboards; and her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who composed the music.

In the summer of 1996, with the help of old and new friends, Smith released Gone Again (produced by Malcolm Burn and Lenny Kaye), a highly acclaimed meditation on passage and mortality. To promote the album, she opened on tour for Bob Dylan, which marked her re-emergence as a performer. In 1996, Smith met photographer Steven Sebring for a photo shoot and agreed to give him unprecedented access to the tour, which subsequently led to their collaboration on the film Patti Smith: Dream of Life. By 1997, Smith's new band was formed with Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Oliver Ray and Tony Shanahan. The group recorded Peace and Noise, which incorporated a blend of the spoken and sung in Smith's trademark incantatory style and reflected the feel and inner play of a working group. Smith and the band toured and participated in benefit work, including fundraisers for the Neil Young Bridge School, Jewel Heart and the Tibet House Foundation. The song "1959" from Peace and Noise, written by Smith and Shanahan, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1998.

With Gung Ho in 2000, her eighth album on Arista Records (produced by Gil Norton), Smith continued the process of merging tradition with the moment. As she had for previous albums, she drew on the inspiration of spiritual and political leaders and events, as well as heralding the efforts of the common man. Gung Ho explored those who — as the title phrase implies — entered into service with enthusiastic hearts, from Mother Teresa, who exemplified charity, to resilient Vietnamese patriot Ho Chi Minh. "Glitter in Their Eyes" from Gung Ho, written by Smith and Oliver Ray was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001.

In 1999, Smith read at the Whitney and Guggenheim Museums. In November 2000, she participated in the launching of a William Blake exhibit at London's Tate Gallery with a performance with Oliver Ray at St. James Cathedral. She worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with its William Blake program in June 2001 and returned to work with the museum in 2005 in conjunction with its Diane Arbus exhibit. In the past few years, Smith has participated in events at several literary foundations, including the Hermann Hesse Foundation in Montagnola, Switzerland; Virginia Woolf's Monk's House in East Sussex, England; and the Casa-Museo Federico Garcia Lorca in Granada, Spain.

Patti Smith is the author of Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea and Patti Smith Complete, a catalog of lyrics, photographs, illustrations, original artwork and reflections. Smith's drawings have been exhibited at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, the Museum Eki in Kyoto, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Cartier Foundation in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In September 2002, Strange Messenger, an exhibit of drawings, newly created silkscreens of the remains of the World Trade Center and black-and-white Polaroid photographs printed in silver gelatin process, opened at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. In 2003, the exhibit toured the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; the Parco Museum in Tokyo, Japan; the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany; the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy; and the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Smith's photographs were exhibited at the Palazzo Fontana di Trevi in Rome, Italy in June 2005. During 2006, her art show traveled to Glasgow, Scotland and Sligo, Ireland, and it continues to build as it travels around the world.

In 1975, Patti Smith was awarded the Academie Charles Cros, Grand Prix du Disque Award in France for the recording of Horses. In 2003, she was the recipient of the Torino Poetry Award and the Premio Tenco, both in Italy. Patti Smith also received the prestigious Women of Valor Award at the ROCKRGRL Music Conference on November 10, 2005 — exactly 30 years to the day after the release of Horses.

On June 10, 2005, the Minister of Culture for the French Republic awarded Smith the grade of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest grade awarded to artists who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts throughout the world.

On October 20, 2002, Smith was signed to Columbia Records. In spring 2004, her first Columbia recording, Trampin', was released. The 30th anniversary re-issue of Horses, entitled Horses/Horses was released in fall 2005 and was heralded as one of the most poignant re-issues in recording industry history. It included a digital remaster on one disk and a live disk that was recorded at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown Festival in London in summer 2005. The musicians on the live recording include Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Tony Shanahan, Tom Verlaine and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On March 12, 2007, Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A new CD of cover songs entitled Twelve was released in spring 2007 on Columbia Records and was followed by an international tour.

In addition to recording, performing, art and writing, Smith remains strongly involved in social issues and continues to participate in various human rights organizations. Her last volume of poetry, Auguries of Innocence, was published in fall 2005 by Ecco, and her latest book Just Kids about her growth as an artist and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is due to be released on January 19, 2010.

Source: Patti Smith: Dream of Life Press Book





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I wanted to remember the original energy; strip away all the glamour and limousines and tons of drugs. I wanted to get back to the revolutionary ideas, merging poetry and rhythm and rock and roll.”

— Patti Smith,
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