Condolences and music making memories have been pouring in via social media for Shelburne’s multi-talented Robbie Smith, who passed away on Feb. 27 at the age of 64 after being diagnosed with stage 4 incurable cancer in December.
A singer, songwriter and musician who played guitar, mandolin, banjo and violin, “Robbie will always represent the pinnacle of my musical journey,” said singer/songwriter Lynne Crowell of Barrington.
“He willingly shared his knowledge of music, the stage and the recording process and led myself and my daughter through our first recording experience with his expertise, delightful antidotes, input, and so much laughter and fun. He was always supportive on and off stage. A joy to share time with,” Crowell shared. “My daughter and I will always be grateful for his presence in our lives and will never forget what he taught to all who knew him, how to love.”
“Robbie has always had incredible inborn talent,” said long-time friend Joan Czapalay. “His greatest joy was always making music. The music he did with Pat Melanson (Killick) and with Mike Elliot and the Heavy Water guys brought so much fun to Robbie’s life. Other musicians loved working with Robbie as well, and he did a few solo gigs between 1999 and 2007. But he didn’t have the courage to go very far on his own.”
As it so happened, it was in 2007 that Czapalay had a birthday party at Charlotte Lane Café in Shelburne, owned by Roland and Kathleen Glauser. Robbie and other members of his family were among those in attendance and music was on the menu.
“Kathleen and Pat deMoliter and a couple of women friends sang and I suggested Kath sing something with Robbie,” recalled Czapalay. “I liked the voice match right away.”
That was the very beginning of the harmonizing folk duo Naming the Twins, who went on to perform at numerous venues throughout Canada and the eastern U.S. over the past 10 years. The duo recorded four albums, including Singing the Winter Away, which was just released last fall.
“I am so very thankful that I asked Kath to sing with Robbie at that wonderful birthday party in Shelburne,” said Czapalay. “And grateful that Kathleen got Robbie’s music to a much wider audience.
“She is now the Keeper of the Gift, and I love her so much for the kindness she has always given to dear Robbie,” she said, adding both Kathleen and Roland were wonderful friends to Robbie and his family.
One of the pinnacles of Smith’s musical career came in the 1970s, when British balladeer Roger Whitaker recorded four of his songs and Smith had the opportunity to go on tour with him.
With Royalties from Whittaker for the four songs, Robbie bought a second-hand car, learned to drive, and was able to teach guitar lessons at the Community College, recalled Czapalay.
“Robbie was the most humble, self-effacing person I have ever known,” said Czapalay. “And he treated everyone with respect, even those who were obsessive or jealous of his time and talent.”
As condolences have poured in since his death, support had poured in after Smith’s sudden and unexpected cancer diagnosis in late December.
"It is with profound sadness that we accept the diagnosis of stage 4, incurable cancer,” his singing partner Kathleen Glauser had written in a Facebook post.
HCC, hepatocellular carcinoma, is a rare type of liver cancer usually found in people with liver disease, she had explained.
“Many of you know that for years Robbie has lived with primary biliary cirrhosis with his main symptom being extreme fatigue. The cancer has spread to his lung and his spinal column and up into the vena cava, which is the main vein that takes the blood from the liver up into the heart,” she had written.
Smith and Glauser were promoting their new CD, Singing the Winter Away, and were scheduled to start a 26-date tour through the United States, beginning Jan. 10. The tour was cancelled.
A GoFundMe fundraising campaign was organized by Nicole Colbeck, music manager at Little Acorn Music. The purpose of the GoFundMe Campaign was two-fold – to help with the costs that had been associated with the recording, production, etc. of the CD and related tour expenses that had already been spent; and also to help raise money for Smith’s end-of-life care and other personal matters. As of March 4, the campaign had raised $21,371.
At this time, there are tentative plans to hold a celebration of life for Smith in the spring.
From "Drifters and Dreamers"
Words and music by Robbie Smith:
No more darkness to cloud my vision
To make me blind to the light I seek
No more chains now to keep me in prison
To make my heart grow weak
No more weakness to drown my spirit
To weigh me down in a sea of grief
Just sweet music all around, can't you hear it
To bring my soul relief
Home, I'm going to follow my father home
Follow my father home