Friends remember Utah musician who died during battle with COVID-19

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SALT LAKE CITY — A small group gathered Monday evening to remember a well-loved local musician after learning hours earlier he had passed away during a battle with COVID-19.

Friends said 37-year-old Courtney Isaiah Smith – who sang but was perhaps best known for his work on the piano, organ and keyboard – influenced and inspired numerous lives in the jazz and gospel communities as well as family members and others who were closest to him.

"He was outspoken, passionate and brilliant," said Parker Swenson, who played with Smith as a drummer. "We miss him more than words can describe. We're lucky for the time we had with him, but it's too young."

Swenson said Smith was a mentor and had taught music at multiple local universities over the years.

"Courtney deserved more," Swenson said. "He deserved his 40s, 50s and 60s. He deserved his future. He had a lot more to give."

Swenson said he knew as of Sunday that Smith had been in an Intensive Care Unit and his death was "very sudden."

"I saw myself playing with him until we were old and gray," said David Halliday, a friend and saxophonist. "He was the unique combination of the most talented and the kindest person that maybe I have ever known."

Halliday described Smith as a "genius" and "true master" of music.

"The last time that Parker and Courtney and I hung out here was just a couple of weeks ago," Halliday recalled. "We had put on some Mozart. It was Mozart's 'Requiem' and Courtney just sat down at the piano and played along with the whole thing."

I saw myself playing with him until we were old and gray. He was the unique combination of the most talented and the kindest person that maybe I have ever known.

–David Halliday, friend

Smith was also remembered as a "deeply religious man of faith" who cared deeply about issues of racial justice.

His friends offered their condolences and prayers to Smith's family and life partner.

Halliday said Smith's death is tragic and "devastating on multiple levels," but he too reflected fondly on the times they shared.

"Everybody's got a Courtney story," Halliday said. "His legacy will live on – there's no question!"


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Andrew Adams
Andrew Adams is an award-winning journalist and reporter for KSL-TV. For two decades, he's covered a variety of stories for KSL, including major crime, politics and sports.


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