Smith, R.J. 1959-

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Smith, R.J. 1959-


Born 1959, in Detroit, MI.


Home—Los Angeles, CA. Office—Los Angeles magazine, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., 10th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90036.


Writer, editor, historian, columnist, and journalist. Los Angeles magazine, Los Angeles, CA, senior editor; Details, senior contributing editor.


Getty Research Institute research grant; University of Southern California, Center for Transnational and Multiethnic Studies research grant.


The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of column for the Village Voice. Contributor to periodicals, including Spin, New York Times Magazine, GQ, and Rolling Stone.


Author and editor R.J. Smith is a music journalist, critic, and historian who grew up during the musically diverse era of the late 1960s and honed his critical instincts in the vivid world of alternative rock and college radio. He honed his music journalism at publications such as the Village Voice, where he was a columnist and contributor, and Spin.

In The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance, Smith explores in depth the cultural and social changes that occurred within the African American community in Los Angeles during the 1940s. Smith concentrates his study on the events that occurred along Central Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the region. He looks at the influence of the World War II years, at the individuals and personalities that helped shape the Central Avenue renaissance, and at the tremendous influence music such as jazz had on the time. "Though the scene had been thriving for decades before, Smith focuses on the crucial '40s era of wartime employment, immigration, and racial revolt, and wraps his narratives around key characters who precipitated changes in politics, religion, and culture," noted reviewer Greg Burk in LA Weekly. These individuals, Burk observed, "applied the leverage that helped black Americans, 80 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, finally begin to get free, and the true drama of the situation shines through in Smith's words. It's an action story. And it's exciting stuff."

Smith's story is "lively and captivating as he evokes the social and cultural changes that made L.A. distinctive" and led to significant changes in the music and entertainment of the time, in the social fabric of the Los Angeles area, and in the political climate that encapsulated the region and its culture, commented Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush. In exploring the complicated history of Central Avenue and what it meant to the people who lived there during the renaissance, Smith "consistently achieves what few writers on the subject have even attempted: perspective. And he does it with imagination and grace," Burk remarked.



Booklist, June 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African- American Renaissance, p. 12.

Choice, May, 2007, G.W. McDonough, review of The Great Black Way, p. 1594.

LA Weekly, June 7, 2007, Greg Burk, "Scoping the Stars and Sewage of Central Avenue," review of The Great Black Way.

ONLINE, (June 24, 2007), biography of R.J. Smith.

PublicAffairs Books Web site, (June 24, 2007), biography of R.J. Smith., (June 24, 2007), Steven Ward, "The Voice of R.J. Smith," interview with R.J. Smith.