Leslie Smith

Obituary of Leslie Helene Smith

Leslie Helene Smith died March 26 2023, from heart disease, at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Leslie was born in Princeton, N.J. on December 15, 1958, to Beresford Smith and Barbara Smith (née Kowalski). 

Leslie's father Smitty was an electrical engineer and an avid science fiction fan. Leslie followed her father’s interest, spending 25 years active in the science fiction community.

Leslie's mother Barbara was a teacher and stained glass artist. She created fused stained glass jewelry as well as stained glass windows. She was also a part of the early 1960s folk music boom. Leslie learned about both visual and performing arts from her mother.

Young Leslie loved choral singing and piano. She sang with the All Saints Episcopal Church Choir, and with the Princeton High School Choir under the renowned Musical Director Bill Trego and Associate Director Nancianne Parella.

Her stepfather, Robert L. Siegel, was a founding member of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society. He became an important part of her life and introduced her to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. As a teen, she performed ragtime piano at the festival, and she was reviewed in the New York Times. Working as a festival volunteer for many years, she edited performer biographies for the program book, helped with artist relations, and worked in her mother's jewelry craft booth.

Leslie studied music at Rutgers University’s Douglass College and received a B.A. in art history.  At Douglass she lived in the immersive French and German House residences, which helped her to become fluent in both languages. These skills contributed to her later singing career.

In Philadelphia, Leslie was a copyeditor for “TV Guide,” and later she was an assistant at the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine. She was a compulsive spelling and grammar nitpicker. While in Philadelphia, Leslie performed several shows with the Rose Valley Chorus— a community Gilbert & Sullivan and musical theater company.

In 1987 Leslie moved to Ann Arbor to study choral conducting at the University of Michigan, and to be closer to her future husband Ken. Her studies shifted over time, first to musicology. Finally she found her calling in vocal performance, with a focus on opera. In the late 1990s she tackled a Masters degree in vocal performance at Michigan State University. Later, her wide-ranging musical studies would make her a fine voice teacher.

Leslie studied in eight summers of music workshops taking place in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Aspen. Her voice type was a dramatic soprano. In the Czech Republic, she sang in a series of Verdi opera concerts. In workshops and student productions, her roles included Lady Billows in the opera “Albert Herring,” Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni,” and The Witch in “Hansel & Gretel.” Her favorite local performance was Katisha in “The Mikado” for the University of Michigan’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

For many years, Leslie was a soprano section leader and occasional soloist with the Chancel Choir of First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, and she had been looking forward to returning to the Choir when her health improved. Also locally, Leslie sang with the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Bach Chorale.

Outside of classical music, Leslie enjoyed jazz, 1970s and ‘80s rock. She was an early adopter of digital technology; she participated in online communities as far back as the mid-1980s, with dial-up BBS systems, and she was fearless in trying out new devices and software. She read books and articles passionately— her web browser tabs were often filled to overflowing. She loved to cook and she was an enthusiastic gardener. In recent years Leslie picked up knitting and crochet, and she loved the Kerrytown Crafters weekly knitting sessions. Leslie adored cats, and throughout life she shared her home with many lovely felines.

Leslie is survived by her loving husband Kenneth R. Josenhans of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is also survived by her sister, Jennifer Smith Lohmann, originally from Princeton, and her nieces Amelia and Olivia Lohmann who all live in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Leslie’s memory can be made to the Sacred Music Fund at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan.   https://www.firstpresbyterian.org/worship/ministry-music-and-fine-arts

A memorial and celebration of her life will be announced later.  

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