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Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an Americanmarker singer–songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York Citymarker punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses. Called the "Godmother of Punk", she integrated the beat poetry performance style with three-chord rock. Smith's most widely known song is "Because the Night", which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker.

Early years

Smith was born in Chicagomarker on December 30, 1946. Her mother, Beverly, was a jazz singer and her father, Grant, worked at the Honeywell plant. She spent her entire childhood in Deptford Township, New Jerseymarker. Raised the daughter of a Jehovah's Witness mother, she claims she had a strong religious education and a very good Bible education, but left organized religion as a teenager because she felt it was too confining and much later wrote the opening line ("Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine") of her cover version of Them's "Gloria" in response to this experience. Smith graduated from Deptford Township High Schoolmarker in 1964. The family was not well-off, and Smith went to work in a factory. Patti Smith was voted "Class Clown" in her senior year.

1967–1973: New York

In 1967 she left Glassboro State Teachers College (now Rowan Universitymarker) and moved to New York Citymarker. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe there while working at a book store with a friend, poet Janet Hamill. Mapplethorpe's photographs of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group LPs, and they remained friends until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. In 1969 she went to Parismarker with her sister and started busking and doing performance art. When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in the Hotel Chelseamarker with Mapplethorpe; they frequented the fashionable Max's Kansas Citymarker and CBGBmarker nightclubs. Smith provided the spoken word soundtrack for Sandy Daley's art film Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, starring Mapplethorpe. The same year Smith appeared with Wayne County in Jackie Curtis's play Femme Fatale. As a member of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, she spent the early '70s painting, writing, and performing. In 1971 she performed – for one night only – in Sam Shepard's Cowboy Mouth. (The published play's notes call for "a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow".)

Smith was briefly considered for lead singer position in Blue Öyster Cult, and contributed lyrics to several of their songs, including "Debbie Denise" (after her poem "In Remembrance of Debbie Denise"), "Career of Evil", "Fire of Unknown Origin", "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (on which she sings duet vocals), and "Shooting Shark". During these years, Smith also wrote rock journalism, some of which was published in Rolling Stone and Creem magazines.

1974–1979: Patti Smith Group

By 1974 Patti Smith was performing rock music herself, initially with guitarist and rock archivist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band comprising Kaye, Ivan Kral on bass, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums and Richard Sohl, on piano. Ivan Kral was a refugee from Czechoslovakiamarker, fleeing in 1968 after the fall of Alexander Dubček. Financed by Robert Mapplethorpe, the band recorded a first single, "Hey Joe / Piss Factory", in 1974. The A-side was a version of the rock standard with the addition of a spoken word piece about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst ("Patty Hearst, you're standing there in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army flag with your legs spread, I was wondering were you gettin' it every night from a black revolutionary man and his women..."). The B-side describes the helpless anger Smith had felt while working on a factory assembly line and the salvation she discovered in the form of a shoplifted book, the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations.

Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis of Arista Records, and 1975 saw the release of Smith's first album Horses, produced by John Cale amid some tension. The album fused punk rock and spoken poetry and begins with a cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria", and Smith's opening words: "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." The austere cover photograph by Mapplethorpe has become one of rock's classic images. As Patti Smith Group toured the United States and Europe, punk's popularity grew. The rawer sound of the group's second album, Radio Ethiopia, reflected this. Considerably less accessible than Horses, Radio Ethiopia received poor reviews. However, several of its songs have stood the test of time, and Smith still performs them regularly in concert. On January 23, 1977, while touring in support of the record, Smith accidentally danced off a high stage in Tampa, Floridamarker and fell 15 feet into a concrete orchestra pit, breaking several neck vertebrae. The injury required a period of rest and an intensive round of physical therapy, during which time she was able to reassess, re-energize and reorganize her life. Patti Smith Group produced two further albums before the end of the 1970s. Easter (1978) was her most commercially successful record, containing the single "Because the Night" co-written with Bruce Springsteen. Wave (1979) was less successful, although the songs "Frederick" and "Dancing Barefoot" both received commercial airplay.

1980–1995: Marriage

Before the release of Wave, Smith, now separated from long-time partner Allen Lanier, met Fred "Sonic" Smith, former guitar player for Detroitmarker rock band MC5 and his own Sonic's Rendezvous Band, who adored poetry as much as she did. (Wave's "Dancing Barefoot" and "Frederick" were both dedicated to him.) The running joke at the time was that she only married Fred because she would not have to change her name. They had a son, Jackson (b. 1982), who would go on to marry The White Stripes drummer, Meg White in 2009, and a daughter, Jesse (b. 1987). Through most of the 1980s Patti Smith was in semi-retirement from music, living with her family north of Detroit in St. Clair Shores, Michiganmarker. On June 1988, she released the album Dream of Life, which included the song "People Have the Power". Fred Smith died on November 4, 1994. Shortly afterward, Patti faced the unexpected death of her brother Todd and original keyboard player Richard Sohl. When her son Jackson turned 14, Smith decided to move back to New York. After the impact of these deaths, her friends Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known since her early years in New York) urged her to go back out on the road. She toured briefly with Bob Dylan in December 1995 (chronicled in a book of photographs by Stipe).

1996–2003: Re-emergence

In 1996, Smith worked with her long-time colleagues to record Gone Again, featuring "About a Boy", a tribute to Kurt Cobain. Smith was a fan of Cobain, but was more angered than saddened by his suicide. That same year she collaborated with Stipe on "E-Bow the Letter," a song on R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which she has also performed live with the band. After release of Gone Again, Patti Smith had recorded two new albums: Peace and Noise in 1997 (with the single "1959", about the invasion of Tibet) and Gung Ho in 2000 (with songs about Ho Chi Minh and Smith's late father). Songs "1959" and "Glitter in Their Eyes" were nominated for Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. A box set of her work up to that time, The Patti Smith Masters, came out in 1996, and 2002 saw the release of Land , a two-CD compilation that includes a memorable cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Smith's solo art exhibition Strange Messenger was hosted at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on September 28, 2002.


On April 27, 2004 Patti Smith released Trampin' which included several songs about motherhood, partly in tribute to Smith's mother, who had died two years before. Smith curated the Meltdown festival in Londonmarker on June 25, 2005, the penultimate event being the first live performance of Horses in its entirety. Guitarist Tom Verlaine took Oliver Ray's place. This live performance was released later in the year as Horses/Horses. In August 2005 Smith gave a literary lecture about the poems of Arthur Rimbaud and William Blake. On July 10, 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. In addition to her influence on rock music, the Minister also noted Smith's appreciation of Arthur Rimbaud. On October 15, 2006, Patti Smith performed at the CBGB nightclub, with a 3½-hour tour de force to close out Manhattanmarker's music venue. She took the stage at 9:30 p.m. (EDT) and closed for the night (and forever for the venue) at a few minutes after 1:00 a.m., performing her song "Elegie", and finally reading a list of punk rock musicians and advocates who had died in the previous years.

Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker on March 12, 2007. She dedicated her award to the memory of her late husband, Fred, and gave a performance of The Rolling Stones staple "Gimme Shelter." As the closing number of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Smith's "People Have the Power" was used for the big celebrity jam that always ends the program. From March 28 to June 22, 2008 the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporainmarker in Paris hosted a major exhibition of the visual work of Patti Smith, Land 250, drawn from pieces created between 1967 and 2007. At the 2008 Rowan Commencement ceremony, Smith received an honorary doctorate degree for her contributions to popular culture. Smith is the subject of a 2008 documentary film, Patti Smith: Dream of Life. A live album by Patti Smith and Kevin Shields, The Coral Sea was released in July 2008. On September 10 2009, after a week of smaller events and exhibitions in the city, Smith played an open-air concert in Florence's Piazza Santa Croce, commemorating her 'legendary' performance in the same city 30 years earlier.


Smith has been a supporter of the Green Party and backed Ralph Nader in the 2000 United States presidential election. She led the crowd singing "Over the Rainbow" and "People Have the Power" at the campaign's rallies, and also performed at several of Nader's subsequent "Democracy Rising" events. Smith was a speaker and singer at the first protests against the Iraq War organized by Louis Posner of Voter March on September 12, 2002, as U.S. President George W. Bush spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. Smith supported Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election. Bruce Springsteen continued performing her "People Have the Power" at Vote for Change campaign events. In the winter of 2004/2005, Smith toured again with Nader in a series of rallies against the Iraq War and call for the impeachment of George W. Bush.

Smith premiered two new protest songs in Londonmarker in September 2006. Louise Jury, writing in The Independent, characterized them as "an emotional indictment of American and Israelimarker foreign policy". Song "Qanamarker"[[ mp3]] was about the Israeli airstrike on the [[Lebanon|Lebanese]] village of [[Qana]]. "Without Chains"[[ mp3]] is about Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germanymarker, held at Guantanamo Bay detainment campmarker for four years. Jury's article quotes Smith as saying:

In an interview, Smith stated that Kurnaz's family has contacted her and that she wrote a short preface for the book that he was writing. Kurnaz's book, "Five Years of My Life," was published in English by Palgrave Macmillan in March 2008, with Patti's introduction.

On March 26, 2003, ten days after Rachel Corrie's death, Smith appeared in Austin, Texasmarker, and performed an anti-war concert. She prefaced her song "Wild Leaves" with the following comments and subsequently wrote a new song "Peaceable Kingdom" which was inspired by and is dedicated to Rachel Corrie. She supported Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

In 2009, in her Meltdown concert in Festival Hall, she paid homage to the Iranians taking part in post-election protests by saying "Where is My Vote?" in a version of the song People Have the Power.


Smith has been a great source of inspiration for Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Listening to her album Horses when he was 15 made a huge impact on him. He said later: "I decided then that I was going to start a band." In 1998, Stipe published a collection of photos called Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith. Stipe sings backing vocals on Smith's songs "Last Call" and "Glitter in Their Eyes". Patti also sings background vocals on R.E.M.'s "E-Bow the Letter".

In 2004, Shirley Manson of Garbage spoke of Smith's influence on her at Rolling Stone's issue "The Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time", in which Patti Smith was counted number 47. The Smiths members Morrissey and Johnny Marr shared an appreciation for Smith's Horses, and their song "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" is a reworking of one of the album's tracks, "Kimberly". Later, Morrissey did a cover of "Redondo Beach," another song from the same album. Manchester contemporaries, James, also cite Smith as a major influence on the band establishing a direction. In Stuart Maconie's book of the band, lead singer/songwriter Tim Booth is quoted as saying, "I went out and bought Horses the next day. The next week I put up a sign selling everything I had. I decide that I would not have anything if it was not as strong as Horses."

In 2004, Sonic Youth released an album called Hidros 3 (to Patti Smith). U2 also cites Patti Smith as influence.

In 2005 Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall released the single "Suddenly I See" as a tribute of sorts to Patti Smith. The lyrics describe Tunstall looking at Smith's picture in a magazine, admiring her fame and accomplishments and suddenly realizing what she wants to do with her life. The cover of Tunstall's debut album Eye to the Telescope was also inspired by Smith, specifically the famous cover shot from her album Horses, of which Tunstall said: "I aspired to what this image was about - which was a woman dressed in man's clothes with such mystery, but such confidence and attitude and character. I just thought, 'that's so what I want to be when I grow up'."

Canadian actress Ellen Page frequently mentions Smith as one of her idols and has done various photo shoots replicating famous Smith photos. She has said that the only time she's been truly star-struck was when she met Smith backstage at a concert in Europe and she has a dog named Patti in homage to Smith. Because of Page's suggestions, Smith's work and name also factor prominently in two of Page's movies, Juno and The Tracey Fragments.

In 1978 and 1979, Gilda Radner portrayed a character called Candy Slice on Saturday Night Live based on Smith.

Band members

  • Lenny Kaye – guitar
  • Jay Dee Daugherty – drums
  • Tony Shanahan – bass, keyboards
  • Oliver Ray – guitar
  • Lenny Kaye – guitar
  • Jay Dee Daugherty – drums
  • Tony Shanahan – bass, keyboards
  • Jackson Smith – guitar


Studio albums Other albums


Further reading


  1. LaGorce, Tammy. "MUSIC; Patti Smith, New Jersey's Truest Rock-Poet", The New York Times, December 11, 2005. Accessed April 25, 2008. "But of all the ways to know Patti Smith, few people, including Ms. Smith, would think to embrace her as Deptford Township's proudest export."
  2. Patti Smith: Dream of Life, Variety, January 29, 2008. Accessed online 23 May 2008.
  3. Patti Smith and Florence, a never-ending story, Agenzia per il Turismo, Firenze, July, 2009. Accessed online 30 September 2009.
  4. Macmillan: Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo Murat Kurnaz: Books
  5. Lamb, Bill, KT Tunstall - Suddenly I See, Top40.About.Com, Retrieved 26 October 2007[1]

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