A highly respected communications professor, songwriter, disability advocate, and frontman for Western Michigan’s New Midwest died last week after a long illness.
As Grand Rapids guitarist Jason Hammond put it, Chris Smit had a “big heart for those around him.”
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Sumit, 48, a longtime communications professor at Calvin University, disability advocate, author, award-winning musician and singer-songwriter, passed away last week after a long illness.
A man of many personalities and a rare talent for socially conscious songwriting, Sumit was particularly passionate about using the arts to change society’s perceptions of disability.
He co-founded DisArt, a production company and arts and culture organization focused on creating public art events that foster and convey the culture of people with disabilities, and served as director of the DisArt Festival, which showcases art created by people with disabilities. I was.
Born with spinal muscular atrophy, Sumit has become, according to colleague Beth Haller, “a significant leader in the arts and media of disabled people in the United States and internationally.”
“The stereotype is that to be successful as a disabled person, you have to overcome obstacles, not overcome them,” Smith said at the festival’s Calvin Preview in 2015.
Sumit, Calvin’s renowned and beloved Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, left Calvin in 2019 to pursue a full-time DisArt job, stating on Facebook: Through art and creativity, I can focus my time, energy, and resources on helping communities radically change their imaginations about disability. ”
Sumit has also made an impact in the region as a recording artist and frontman for die-hard rock band The New Midwest. In 2010, Grand He won the Local His Spin of the Year Award for “Commonwealth”, described by Rapids Press as “an album with a message”. , with an edge, with real grace”, propelled by the “begging and pathetic tone” of Sumit’s voice.
Listen: “Remedy”, New Midwest (from “Commonwealth”)
“It’s always been a real treasure to be with Chris,” said friend and bandmate Hammond. “It’s true that we had very high expectations for ourselves and for how fresh and exciting the music of the New Midwest could be. I have to remember there was a lot of laughter and fun in the process.Chris was hilarious and made everyone around him smile and laugh.”
Hammond said Sumit “has a knack for creating great song ideas himself in his own computer”. …I remember being completely blown away by the chord progressions and unique ideas he created on digital instruments. ”
In a profile of Smit shared in 2010 by The Grand Rapids Press writer Terri Finch Hamilton, he is described as writing songs that “stir people’s souls.”
Great personality and indomitable spirit
“It doesn’t take much longer to notice personality than Chris’ chair,” bandmate and longtime friend Michael Van Houten told Hamilton. “It’s a big personality.”
His fortitude endured even amid recent health problems and hospice care involvement. said to have been diagnosed.
Tributes and remembrances of Sumit include students, colleagues, and students who described him as kind, thoughtful, funny, intelligent, a “bright light with a smile” and “an unspeakable force”. From friends, Facebook and social media are overflowing.
“He had a deep sense of responsibility to his wife Lisa and son Moses, to his brothers and to his family,” Hammond said.
“His brother Randy was a few years older than Chris, but Randy was always present at our gigs and supported Chris and the band. I am so grateful that our collaboration was a musical reflection of life at the time, and Chris was a precious gift.”
A public memorial service for Sumit is scheduled for later this year.
More tributes to Smit at Disart can be found here and on Facebook. Plus, listen to another track from “Commonwealth” here.
Listen: “Glory Waits for No One”, New Midwest (from “Commonwealth”)
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