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Mary Catherine Smith
Mary Catherine grew up in Petoskey at a time when jazz and music from other cultures could not be readily found in northern Michigan. Fortunately her mother had a pretty decent collection of vinyl, including some jazz recordings from the ‘50s, and so began her interest in jazz. It wasn’t until later that she became enamored of the music of Brazil.
When she was in 10th grade, she and one of her friends convinced their parents to let them travel to Recife, in northeastern Brazil, instead of going to Florida for their senior-year spring break. They wanted to visit an exchange student who was living with the friend’s family at the time. The only condition their parents made was that they pay for the trip themselves, so the two determined teens worked hard for two years to earn the money. Mary Catherine and her friend bought their tickets and went on the journey of a lifetime.
After spending almost a month in Recife, she knew that she had to return as soon as she humanely could. So, the following year Mary Catherine quit college and took off for Brazil again, this time spending 7 months in Recife teaching English and learning to speak Portuguese. (Of course the music, especially samba and forró, captured her soul.) A few years later she returned to Brazil to study at the University of São Paulo (USP) while working toward an undergraduate degree in Brazilian Culture at the University of Michigan.
Since then Mary Catherine has traveled to Brazil whenever possible, spending much of her time in Rio de Janeiro. She works with the cultural organization Baixo Santo do Alto Glória, which is located in the historic area straddling the Glória and Santa Teresa neighborhoods of Rio. BSAG is a “Ponto de Cultura,” a core component of Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil’s Cultura Viva program.
She was involved with the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival when it was re-established in 1992 and for several years afterward. She has also been a part of the Cultural Exchange Network of Detroit which produces the annual Detroit-based Concert of Colors. Since Brazilian Sol hit the air, she has coordinated and led workshops and lectures about Brazilian culture and music for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and the University Musical Society.
Today Mary Catherine goes to as many live shows as she can, especially those of the free jazz/improvisational nature. She lives in Depot Town with two felines, one of whom is named Guinga after the Brazilian composer/musician.