Bay area trumpet player Allen Smith was raised in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During World War II Smith served in the Navy at Barber's Point Naval Air Station in Honolulu, Hawaii and was a member of the renowned Hellcats Navy band. After World War II Allen moved to San Francisco and worked with T-Bone Walker, Saunders King, and many others. He then went on the road with Johnny Otis in 1947. He recorded with Duke Ellington (in 1965), Gil Evans and Benny Goodman, and performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Quincy Jones, Gerald Wilson, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. He made several tours of Japan with Benny Carter.
Smith earned a Master's degree in education from San Francisco State College and enjoyed a parallel career within the S.F. Unified School District. He was for many years the principal of Junípero Serra School. Upon retirement he dedicated himself fully to music, supporting local artists, including Bay Area favorites Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and song stylist Kim Nalley.
Allen Smith died in 2011 at the age of 85.
From The San Francisco Chronicle:
Mr. Smith was a mainstay at the fabled Fillmore ‘after hours’ club Jimbo’s Bop City. Along with venerable jazz bassist Vernon Alley, drummer Earl Watkins and others, Mr. Smith helped end segregation in San Francisco nightclubs in the late ’40s. He was one of the primary players at the short-lived Blanco’s Cotton Club on O’Farrell Street, the city’s first desegregated club in the elegant 1907 theater now called the Great American Music Hall.
“Opening a club with all-black entertaining and help…where anybody could come? That was quite radical at the time,” Mr. Smith recalled in 1998.