Smith was born June 29, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree and a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1950 and 1952, respectively.
In 1953, his opera “Blood Wedding” premiered. Smith taught at C. W. Post College from 1958 to 1970 and later taught at the University of Connecticut. His awards include the first composition prize of BMI Student Composer Awards in 1952, the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1973, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988.