Donald F. Smith, founder of the Mabel Mercer Foundation and the New York Cabaret Convention and a longtime champion of cabaret, died of congestive heart failure on Tuesday, March 13, in Manhattan. He was 79.
Smith launched the foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to promote interest in cabaret, in 1985; he had long worked, unpaid, as a publicist for singer Mercer, successfully guiding her career until her death the year before. (Mercer’s work as an art singer had influenced Frank Sinatra and Barbara Cook, among others.)
The organization has annually produced the New York Cabaret Convention since the late 1980s. Nightclub talent was showcased in long concerts that were held first at Manhattan’s Town Hall and then at Rose Theater of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The convention eventually sprouted offshoots in other U.S. cities.
Born in New Bedford, Mass., Smith served in the Army during the Korean War. After moving to New York in 1955, he worked in retail but successfully befriended notables including Mercer and Margot Fonteyn; eventually he offered himself up as a publicist.
After years of prodding, Smith successfully convinced the Algonquin Hotel to relaunch its cabaret venue the Oak Room in 1980.
Other performers whose careers Smith helped guide include Michael Feinstein, Julie Wilson and Andrea Marcovicci.
Smith has no immediate survivors.