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Darden Smith Wraps Inaugural Year of UT Songwriter Residency

The prolific musician and UT alumnus will cap his year with multimedia event “Western Skies”

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Darden Smith, left with physics freshman Chinonso Obiefule and President Jay Hartzell writing a song in the Cactus Cafe

In September 2023, President Jay Hartzell announced the creation of a new position: songwriter in residence. To fill the it, Hartzell personally selected Darden Smith, a UT alumnus with a nearly 40-year history of songwriting, recording and performing.

“I know that among our 52,000 students, we have people with stories to tell,” Hartzell said in his State of the University Address. “How can we support them and help them get encouraged so that they perhaps have a chance to be the next Darden Smith and find a way to make a living out of this great thing.”

Now, Smith is finishing up his year in residence, though he will continue to be available in a advisory role as the program continues to develop. He is capping the inaugural year with a multimedia performance called “Western Skies,” on Saturday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m. in the McCullough Theatre on the UT campus. The show is described as a “new performance of songs, stories, and photographs to get lost and find the way home through the landscape and mythologies of Texas and the American West.”

Earlier this month, Hartzell joined Smith on stage at the Cactus Cafe in the Texas Union to write a song together. The video below documents the one-hour session in front of a live audience.

UT News tagged along for an event in the College of Fine Arts held at the Center for Creative Economies, where Smith imparted wisdom to students from across the University. “Stay away from debt,” Smith counseled. “Whenever you have debt your energy is flowing behind you. It took me a while to learn this, but if you can be zeroed out as far as debt, all your energy’s moving forward.”

In December, Smith sat down with UT News for an in-depth interview about his life, music career and work with students. “I’m very interested in the intersection of art and work. That’s a non-sexy way to talk about it. It comes from a feeling that everyone is creative, everyone has something,” Smith says. “People who bring that really fully into their lives are people who put in time and effort to nurture that thing. That’s where the work comes in, and if you can marry those up, it’s possible to have this really interesting life. You can actually get paid to do it.”

As part of his Texas In Depth interview with UT News, Smith also spoke about the many songwriters who influenced him and relayed anecdotes about those he’s known. “Jimmy Webb is America to me. He’s like Paul Simon or Irving Berlin. — I would put Jimmy Webb up there. Jimmy Webb captures the Plains. He’s from western Oklahoma. Jimmy Webb, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Terry Allen — all those guys have the same thing, and it’s a flatline horizon with a lot of sky.”