By Hakim Abdul-Ali
Famed television host, restaurateur and lifestyle authority B. Smith died Sunday, February 23, 2020, after a long time battle struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This truly talented and skilled businesswoman was seventy-years-old when she passed away at her home in Long Island, New York.
Being the cultural critic for this newspaper for so long has allowed me to meet, interview, critique and write about some of the world’s most gifted and famous folk. And one of the sweetest and dearest souls of that ilk, who I’ve had the esteemed pleasure to engage and participate in all of the above mentioned scenarios, was the fantastic B. Smith.
I met, interviewed and wrote about this preeminent entrepreneurial trend setter back on June 5, 2002, and what she had to say left a lasting impression upon me is to be putting it lightly. Ms. Smith, born Barbara Elaine Smith on August 24, 1949, in Everson, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, was, in my opinion, the embodiment of pure class and ebony femininity, and I say that with the very utmost of respect.
You see, to be in the presence of B. Smith, was a delightful joy because she was a down-to-earth lady, resplendent with stylish grace and poised energy. My interview with her in 2002 took place at the fabulous downtown Charleston (Ansonborough) residence of Dr. Fred and Mrs. Nancy Worsham, whose home was used as a setting for an episode of Ms. Smith’s hugely popular television show, “B. Smith With Style (Stylin’ in Charleston segment)”, and her special guest for that show was none other than Grammy Award winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves.
Reflecting on that interview, and my subsequent June 12, 2002, Chronicle published article, helped me recalled that in our interview she expressed her sentiments about her, at that time, sixth anniversary of her acclaimed television show was something which made her extremely proud. It was an enlightening interchange, one which I’ll always cherish.
In our interview she said, “There are few of us (African-Americans) who can say we have a successful television show that has our name in the title and that we produced or co-produced. My show, B. Smith With Style, was co-produced and created, along with my husband, Dan Gasby, who is a tall African-American man.” She seemed very proud in offering that sentiment to me.
B. Smith also told me in other very direct expressions that “It’s a monumental experience for us to have taken a dream and to have grown that dream into a television series that’s seen all over the world. We’re not just seen in the USA. We’re in at least two hundred markets here and about forty in other countries.
“I’m dubbed in Latin American countries, and I receive e-mails from South Africa, Indonesia and South America praising the show.” This pioneering television host, often called the black Martha Stewart, after the European-American popular cooking diva and home styling guru, was one of a kind, and I believed that there never should have been any comparison to her (B. Smith), with no disrespect intended towards Ms. Stewart, who was and is awesome in her own special way and one to whom B. Smith always showed and paid respect to.
B. Smith was quite a polite celebrity for me to have interviewed because she was so genuine and hospitable, all along displaying a warmth of humility that I don’t find too often in some folk who I’ve had the opportunity to interview. You may not have known that among her many legendary accomplishments and credits is that she was the first Black model to be featured on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine, which occurred in 1976. Ten years later, her monumental rise continued with the successful opening of her amazing Southern-Style cuisine restaurant which was located in New York City, and it closed in 2015.
This stylish lady’s and her husband’s empire also included tableware products, a bath product line for Bed Bath and Beyond and she also authored the noteworthy culinary book, “B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style.” B. Smith was definitely a joy to have met and interviewed because she exuded caring and confident sophistication, qualities I immediately observed after only being her presence for a brief while.
I remember something else that she said in our interview that rings loudly in my thoughts about her. She said that she remembered growing up knowing “her people” had and shared lots of love towards each other and that they always shared big family meals together.
This beautiful noblewoman of ebony cultured class emphasized that her father and mother built a beautiful home and that they made the most of what they had for her and her three brothers. She also revealed to me that “nothing comes without a struggle, and that includes success.”
Finally, I remember her telling me, “Brother, I’ve stood on a mountain of no’s for one yes. I’m a believer in following one’s dream. Sometimes it doesn’t (always) happen the way you want it to, but it’ll guide you in the direction you’re supposed to going in. You can’t give up. You have to prepare yourself (for success in life).”
That’s a lesson from the legendary icon, Sister B. Smith, which all “hue-mans” need to savor. This incomparable lady’s heady advice should, hopefully, be understood and adhered to by the wise among us, including me and you. Rest In Peace B. Smith! I’ll remember you always as I’m sure others will also.