Lulu Smith Remembered

We received word from Lulu Smith’s son Michael Collins, Sr. that Lulu passed away on October 6. Lulu was a long-time SEMJA member and served on our board. Michael penned an obituary for Lulu and sent it to us. Several of us met Michael at Louis Smith’s funeral. This is the obit:

Harriet Louise Smith aka “Lulu”was born Harriet Louise Eaton to Louise and Wayne Eaton on Independence Day, July 4, 1936, in Fowlerville, Michigan. Lulu, the oldest of five children, Wayne, Jr. (Gary), Frank, Judy, and James, finished high school at Fowlerville High School, and went on to attend college at the University of Michigan to study international education. As an International Education major, Lulu was able to travel to Paris, France as a foreign exchange student to study the European educational system, and French culture. Lulu became fluent in French and an expert in French culture, food, and the arts, and the European educational systems.

In 1956 Lulu met Durward B. Collins, Jr., an English Literature major at the U of M, and in 1958 they were one of the first interracial couples to be married in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1959, Lulu gave birth to her son, Michael David Collins. Soon after the birth of their son, Durward and Lulu separated. Durward moved to New York City and Lulu soon followed. Lulu found work as a teacher in the NYC public school system while Durward worked with juvenile delinquents and they lived together on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. After a few years, they found that they were unable to reconcile the marriage and were divorced. Lulu met her second husband Ralph Halpern in New York City and moved to Madison, Wisconsin where two years later Ralph passed from an unexpected heart attack while attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. Lulu and Michael moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Lulu worked as Junior High School and High School teacher for over 35 years.

In 1968, Lulu met her third husband, University of Michigan Jazz Band Director, Forsythe Junior High School music and band instructor, and jazz recording artist, Edward Louis Smith. Louis and Lulu were married in 1976. Together they traveled the world as Louis toured and recorded as a jazz musician. In 1990, due to unforeseen circumstances, it became necessary for Louis and Lulu to take temporary custody of their grandchildren, Michael D. Collins, Jr. and Tiffany Collins. Louis and Lulu raised their grandchildren for the following two years until turning them over to the care and custody of their dad, who continued on as a single father for the next fifteen years, with the assistance of Louis and Lulu each and every summer. In 2005, Louis experienced a massive stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and aphasic. Lulu became Louis’ primary caretaker for the next eleven years until his death in 2016. The following year Lulu moved to Florida, and into Harbor Chase, an assisted living facility where on October 6, 2021 Lulu passed.

Harriet Louise Smith leaves behind three siblings, Wayne Gary Eaton, Frank Eaton, and James Eaton, her son Michael Collins, Sr., grandchildren, Maurice Cumberbatch, Michael Collins, Jr. and Tiffany Collins, and great grandchildren, Alexia Cumberbatch, Mason Richardson, and Louise (Lulu) Collins.

Lulu was an invaluable member of the metro-Detroit jazz community and will be missed by many. Here are some recollections by our board members.

Before managing The Bird of Paradise jazz club in Ann Arbor, I worked for thirty years as a translator/interpreter in Paris, which is a magnet for tourists and jazz musicians. One of them was the late trumpeter Louis Smith, who visited me there with his wife Lulu.

They both loved French food, so we went around the corner from my apartment in Montmartre and enjoyed a delicious three-course meal at a tiny neighborhood restaurant where the owner was behind the bar and his wife at the stove. That’s when I learned that Lulu spoke French…and that she and Louis had healthy appetites. After dessert, Lulu went back to the kitchen and asked Madame Chef some culinary questions so she could replicate what she’d eaten for them both when they got back home.

After lunch, we walked the streets of Paris, doing some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette department store for gifts to take back home to friends and family…and just enjoying the spring air. April in Paris. Louis hummed it.

Louis always traveled with his trumpet, and later that evening he sat in with a group at one of the jazz clubs — New Morning, Sunside/Sunset or Duc des Lombards…I don’t remember which. Lulu, who acted as his manager on the road, used her French with the club owner to wrangle him onto the stage. Of course, Lou’s reputation was already well-known abroad, so she didn’t have too much convincing to do. But I was impressed by her command of the language, and her fearlessness in a strange venue.

The music was great, the audience ate it up, and it was the perfect end to a day in Paris with my two good friends. I would have enjoyed an encore. But now they’re both gone.

One thing I will never forget: there was a tribute concert for Louis to raise money for the University of Michigan Aphasia Center. Louis had been working with a therapist at the Center for some time, learning to form words by singing. I sat next to Lulu who was clearly proud of what Louis was able to do, singing very simple songs. The ensemble, led by Paul Keller, prepared to play one of Louis’s tunes, and Paul Finkbeiner was ready to play Louis’ solo. As Paul lifted his trumpet, Louis began to scat and scatted the entire solo. Lulu had no idea he could do this, and as she turned to me and squeezed my hand, I saw tears streaming down her face. Theirs was such a real love story.

I too remember the concert for the UM Aphasia Center and how I was taken aback by Louis’ scatting. Lulu’s commitment to her husband was something we watched in action many times when they attended jazz events in the area. They were regulars anytime jazz was played at Kerrytown Concert House. I was privileged to meet Michael Collins, Sr. at Louis’s funeral. When Lulu moved to Florida I also had a chance to meet her brothers, who convinced her to move near them in the vicinity of Orlando. Florida turned out to be her last stop on a long journey. Lulu was a good friend, a force of nature and I miss her very much.