I used to watch “B. Smith With Style”—it would come on television towards my bedtime on Sunday nights when I was a kid. That’s how I was introduced to this beautiful and lovely lady who would cook, interview celebrities and give tips on home décor. She was like the “Martha Stewart” of the African American and Black community and was a multiple, award-winning recipient across a wide range of fields. We recently lost the multi-talented B. Smith, but she left a great legacy for everyone to admire and remember in modeling, television, business and books.
Born on August 24, 1949, Barbara Elaine Smith was a child of the union between her father, William, a steelworker, and mother, Florence, a maid. She was born in Everson, Pennsylvania but was raised in Scottdale and attended Southmoreland High School.
Smith’s career started as a fashion model, gracing the covers of 15 magazines. She also participated in the annual Ebony Fashion Fair and was signed with modeling agency, Wilhelmina Models. In July of 1976, she became one of the first African-American women on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine. Smith also appeared on TV commercials for Mercedes-Benz and served as a spokesperson for Verizon, Colgate Palmolive Oxy and McCormick’s Lawry seasonings products.
She continued making appearances on television on “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” as model and later featuring her restaurant. She also appeared on “The Cosby Mysteries,” “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” and, if you had an eagle eye, a cameo in an episode of “The Cosby Show.” In 1997, “B. Smith With Style,” which was a nationally syndicated/cable television show, aired on NBC stations in more than 90% of U.S. households and in 40 countries. From there, Smith made appearances on programs such as “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” She also made her Off-Broadway debut in “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” an award-winning play by Nora and Delia Ephron.
Smith was the owner of multiple restaurants called B. Smith with the first opening in 1986, on Eighth Avenue at 47th Street in New York City. Then, several years later, her restaurant moved around the corner to Restaurant Row on 46th Street. Other B. Smith restaurant locations would include Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York and Washington, D.C. In 2012, Smith was inducted into the American Chef Corps, part of the U.S. Department of State’s newly-formed Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with the James Beard Foundation.
The décor and ambiance in her restaurants led to Smith starting her first home collection, which debuted at Bed Bath & Beyond in Spring 2001. The B. Smith with Style Home Collection is the first line from an African-American woman to be sold at a nationwide retailer and includes bedding, tabletop and bath products. She also launched a line of serveware in 2004 and a furniture collection in 2007. Currently, in addition to Bed Bath & Beyond, B. Smith brand retail partners include Belk, Burlington, Home Depot, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Stein Mart.
Of course, with all her experience and accomplishments, it would only make sense to write a book. Smith authored three which include “B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends,”(1995) which was the first tabletop entertainment and lifestyle book by an African American; “B. Smith: Rituals and Celebration,” (1999) a James Beard Foundation Award nominee, one of Food & Wine’s best cookbooks of 1999 and an American Library Association Black Caucus Literary Award winner; and “B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style,” (2009) which featured 200 recipes and flavorful tips for reducing calories.
Her first marriage was to former HBO executive, Donald “Don” Anderson. Her second marriage was to Dan Gasby, a television media sales executive, television producer, co-founder of the B. Smith retail brand and Alzheimer’s Caregiver. Smith was stepmother to Gasby’s daughter Dana. Together, the husband-and-wife team created a remarkable collaboration of B. Smith magazines, television shows, restaurants and books. They also produced four specials for TV One, the lifestyle cable network for African-Americans.
In 2013, at the age of 64, Smith was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She decided to address it head-on and announced her diagnosis in June 2014. She stated that she wanted to counter the stigma associated with the disease. She and her husband worked to raise awareness of the disease and its effects on the African-American community in particular. They authored a book, written with Michael Shnayerson entitled “Before I Forget,” in 2016, which talked about Smith’s fight with Alzheimer’s and shared practical and helpful advice.
On Saturday, February 22, Gasby announced on Facebook that Smith had passed away at their home in Long Island, New York. A host of celebrities, TV personalities and politicians took to social media to express their thoughts and feelings about Smith.
“The elegance. The grace. The style. May God rest and bless her soul. #BSmith was one-of-a-kind.”—Ava DuVernay
“We lost legendary fashion model, chef, restaurateur, lifestyle icon and magazine publisher, B Smith today. 70 years old, she and her husband, Dan Gasby were at the forefront of #alzheimers #research for people of color. Love to them and daughter, Dana. #bsmithwithstyle” —Al Roker
“The pioneer of this. When I set out to open up restaurants and a lifestyle brand this is the woman I had to research. Do your research and pay your respect to this queen. This is our Black History. R.I.P B. Smith” —K. Michelle
“RIP B. Smith. My thoughts & prayers are with her family. B. was special to many people — I’m honored to have spent time with her. B.’s fight with Alzheimer’s was one far too many face, but she approached it with a spirit that made her light shine bright.” —Dr. Mehmet Oz
“It’s not often you meet someone like B. Smith. The daughter of a maid and a steelworker, B.’s entrepreneurial spirit made her into a pioneer of the modeling, restaurant and style industries. I’ll miss her. My condolences to her husband & family.” —Mike Bloomberg
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, issued the following statement on B. Smith:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Barbara Smith, who emerged as a highly successful lifestyle maven and was referred to in households around the country as simply ‘B. Smith.’
“B. Smith was a beautiful and stylish woman who became a renowned restauranteur and entrepreneur. I had the pleasure of meeting B. Smith many years ago at her famous restaurant in Washington, DC. I will never forget her hospitality and grace. Any time Members of Congress would visit her restaurant, B. Smith would never hesitate to come to our table and greet us with her beautiful smile and welcoming spirit. B. Smith’s poise and business prowess took her career to unprecedented heights. Her name will forever be etched in history books as one of the most prominent African American entrepreneurs of her time.
“Perhaps one of the greatest gifts and most lasting aspects of B. Smith’s legacy is her courageous advocacy and leadership in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Following her early onset Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in 2013, she and her husband Dan gave voice to the struggles of millions of patients and caregivers nationwide. Their book, Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s, was a powerful testimony that will live on forever.
“As the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, I can personally attest to the power of her leadership and advocacy for Alzheimer’s disease awareness, and I thank B. Smith and her family for their contributions to this important fight.
“As we continue to mourn B. Smith’s death and reflect upon her life, I extend my deepest sympathies to her husband Dan, stepdaughter Dana, her relatives, and friends. In honor of her legacy, I encourage all those who loved her to join us in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by supporting programs and initiatives that increase funding for lifesaving research and support patients and caregivers.”
If you watched “B. Smith With Style” then you know her signature tagline, “Whatever you do, do it with style!” That famous phrase has been on display at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
B. Smith was definitely a woman with style and she taught the world how to find its own authentic style.