Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Smith studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, graduating with a B.M. degree in 1950, and obtaining an M.M. in 1952. There, his instructors included Marcel Dick (composition), Ward Lewis (theory), Dorothy Price (piano), and Robert U. Nelson (calligraphy). In 1953 Smith's opera Blood Wedding premiered in Cleveland.
His awards include the first composition prize of BMI Student Composer Awards sponsored by Broadcast Music, Inc. (1952), the Cleveland Arts Prize (1973), and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1988).
He received an honorary doctorate from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1988.
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- Orchestral Set (1952)
- In Memoriam - Beryl Rubinstein (1953)
- The Valley Wind (1955)
- Contours for Orchestra (1960)
- By Yearning and By Beautiful (1964)
- Evocation (1966)
- Music for harp and chamber orchestra (1967)
- I Love Music (c. 1970) - subsequently recorded by Betty Carter, Joe Lovano, and Ahmad Jamal on his album The Awakening
- Somersault (1974)
- Ritual and Incantation (1974)
- Innerflexions (1977)
- Toussaint L'Ouverture, 1803 (1979)
- Meditations in Passage (1982)
- Variations à due (1984)
- Dialogues & Commentaries (1990–91)
"Hale Smith Day" was declared for February 21, 2010 by the Honorable Andrew Hardwick, Mayor of the village of Freeport, at a concert given in Smith's honor at the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The congregation, located in Freeport, has a Hale Smith Day concert each February in conjunction with the Long Island Composers' Alliance.
- De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. "African Heritage Symphonic Series". Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR061.
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed November 2009
- "Hale Smith, African American Composer, Pianist & Professor". African Heritage in Classical Music. AfriClassical.com. 2006. Retrieved 12 November 2013. (N.b.: this citation applies to the entire list of works.)
- Price, Emmett George, ed. (2011). Encyclopedia of African American Music. 3. ABC-CLIO. p. 60. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Giddins, Gary (1998). Visions of Jazz: The First Century. Oxford University Press. p. 614. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Breda, Malcolm Joseph. (1975). Hale Smith: A Biographical and Analytical Study of the Man and His Music. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi.
- Caldwell, Hansonia La Verne (1975). "Conversation With Hale Smith, A Man of Many Parts." The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 59–76 (spring 1975).