Griot Mary Carter Smith


December 16, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

She's known as "Mother Griot" or "Mother Mary," and for most of her 87 years, Mary Carter Smith, a professional storyteller, has been entertaining children and adults with tales she has collected from Africa, Ireland and the Appalachians.

"Actually it's a French word that is pronounced gree-oh rather than gree-ott," said the retired schoolteacher and librarian the other day, who was named Baltimore's griot in 1983, and state griot in 1991.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., she was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and Baltimore. She began teaching in city schools in 1943. "I also lived for a time in West Virginia, which makes me a black hillbilly," Smith said with a hearty laugh.

The Northeast Baltimore resident has published her autobiography, A Tale That Is Told, and limits her personal appearances to several times a year now.

"It's been a good life," she said. "I may be 87, but I don't look it and I still like to Charleston and cha-cha-cha."

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