Inspired to enter the field of music from a formative age, Dr. Marilynn J. Smiley began learning how to play the piano at the age of 7 and the flute at the age of 12. Continuing her musical studies throughout her high school years, she decided to pursue higher education in the discipline at Ball State University. Dr. Smiley received a Bachelor of Science from Ball State University in 1954, followed by a Master of Music from Northwestern University in 1958. Shortly thereafter, she earned a certification from Ecoles d’Art Américaines de Fontainebleau in France in 1959. After accruing several years of career experience, Dr. Smiley returned to education and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Illinois in 1970.
At the inception of her career in 1954, Dr. Smiley served as a public-school music teacher in Logansport, Indiana, for seven years. She subsequently joined the State University of New York at Oswego in 1961 as a faculty member of the music department. Recognized as a distinguished teaching professor in 1974, she continued in her role until attaining emerita status in 2014. Concurrently, Dr. Smiley was the chairperson of the music department between 1976 and 1981. Just prior to retiring from education, she co-edited the book “Remarkable Women in New York State History” in 2013. Dr. Smiley has also contributed a myriad of articles to professional journals in relation to Renaissance and American music.
Outside of her primary career path, Dr. Smiley is recognized as a retired musicologist, having directed and performed with the Oswego Recorder Consortium and researched music for the Ontario Singers. She has sat as president of the board of directors of the Oswego Opera Theater since 2009, having been a member since 1978. She also served the Oswego branch of the American Association of University Women in several capacities, including as co-president, president, historian and diversity director of the New York State division, and branch counsel representative of District III, among other roles. Since 1995, she has served as diversity chairperson.
A three-time honorary fellow of the State University of New York Research Foundation, Dr. Smiley has also been a grantee of the National Endowment of the Humanities and received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1973. She maintained membership with such organizations as the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, Early Music America and the American Recorder Society, among others. Dr. Smiley attributes much of her success to the inspiration of her early teachers during her own education.
Currently, Dr. Smiley is preparing for an operetta titled “The Golden Cage,” which has been funded by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to be performed at the Oswego Opera Theater in November 2022. Her role has been to research music for the operetta, which will revolve around refugees from the Holocaust who traveled to the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Center in Oswego, New York, in the mid-1940s.