Barbara Elaine Smith, the legendary B. Smith, passed away on February 22, 2020 at age 71. She was the epitome of the “everywoman” — an American restaurateur, model, author, businesswoman, television host. She was self-made, self-honed.
I was not shocked when I heard the news. I was aware she had been suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s for a several years. But I was hopeful, sooooo wishing that medications would improve her symptoms — all the while knowing there was no cure for the disease.
BSmith began her career in modeling in the mid-60’s, ripping the runways for Ebony Fashion Fair and later signing with Wilhelmina Models agency. Smith was the first African-American model to be featured on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976.
B. Smith was the first Black model that I saw who made the transition from a supermodel to world-class entrepreneur, with a wildly successful lifestyle brand. She owned several restaurants called B. Smith’s, including three in New York and one in Washington, D.C. Her syndicated TV show, B. Smith with Style, debuted in 1997 on NBC, which featured home decor and cooking segments.
Her first home collection debuted at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2001, then she launched a line of serveware in 2004, and in spring 2007, her La-Z-Boy furniture collection dropped.
B. Smith served as spokeswoman for Verizon, Colgate, Palmolive Oxy and McCormick’s Lawry seasonings.
If that wasn’t enough, she authored three recipe books: B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends, B. Smith’s Rituals and Celebrations, and B. Smith Cooks Southern Style.
Amazing! She was huge. A household name – with all the descriptives behind it: trailblazer, gamechanger, pioneer — who paved the way as a role model for Superwomen, established and emerging.
Her final book, Before I Forget, written with her husband, was released in early 2016. It recalls their journey following her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, about a year ago, it was reported that her husband, Dan Gasby, not only had an extracurricular girlfriend – Alex Lerner–but she had moved in with B. Smith and Gasby.
Yup, B. Smith’s man moved his #Sidechick in with them and was playing house like it was normal was the word throughout the industry.
People were heated! He got dragged all over social media; it was felt he was taking advantage of the fact that B. Smith did not have the mental capacity to decide for herself, to be in some kind of three-way affair. Many of them were particularly pissed because the mistress was white — a nonfactor to me.
But I really didn’t know what to think about the situation. I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, her husband was her legal caretaker, so he had the final say in the decisions he made about her life. Like it or hate it, the spouse was the custodian.
However, the question was raised, if B. Smith had the capacity to know what he was doing, she would not have approved. From all of the articles I read and shows I watched where her husband was interviewed, he very confidently explained that his wife was perfectly fine with the arrangement. Who really knows what the truth is
Fast-forward to February 22, 2020. B. Smith dies. My antenna goes up. She has amassed a lifestyle empire; so what’s gonna happen to her legacy?? Will her husband and his girlfriend build it or destroy it??
There is a growing boycott of her products by her fans and supporters to ensure that no more of her hard-earned wealth lands in the hands of those who did absolutely nothing to earn it. I AGREE!!
In the meantime, B. Smith laid the foundation for women who came after her, which is why she’s this week’s Lisa Durden’s #WomensHistoryMonth Moment.
May she #RestInPower!!
Lisa Durden is a TV personality and subject matter expert in the areas of pop culture, politics and social issues.
(Note to readers: In 1993, OTP co-founder Bernice Elizabeth Green interviewed Dan Gasby, at a restaurant near the Bedford-Stuyvesant block where he grew up. It was for CBS’ Essence Awards telecast which Gasby co-produced. We are reaching out to him for a Q&A to appear in Our Time Press on or around June 21, the longest day of the year and the summer solstice, when people around the world observe Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month by honoring a person with the disease.)