When Smart-Grosvenor died in 2016 at the age of 79, most obituaries fixated on a rather unavoidable fact: She’d worn so many hats, almost too many to count. She was a food writer and culinary anthropologist; an actress on film and Broadway; a backup singer, dancer, and costume designer for Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra; a correspondent on NPR beginning in 1980; the host of The America’s Family Kitchen with Vertamae Grosvenor on PBS. She defied classification, which makes her ripe for a new surge of recognition. Her legacy is so far-reaching, and yet she’s flown under the radar. —Mayukh Sen
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor (April 4, 1937 – September 3, 2016) was an American culinary anthropologist, griot, food writer, and broadcaster on public media. Born into a Gullah family in the Low Country of South Carolina, she moved with them as a child to Philadelphia during the Great Migration. Later she lived in Paris before settling in New York City. She was active in the Black Arts Movement and performed on Broadwaytwo .
Her travels informed her cooking and appreciation of food as culture. She was known for her cookbook-memoir, Vibration Cooking: or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl (1970), and published numerous essays and articles. She produced two award-winning documentaries and was a commentator for years on NPR, serving as a contributor to its NOW series.
Grosvenor also appeared in several films, including Daughters of the Dust (1992), about a Gullah family in 1902 during a time of transition on the Sea Islands, and Beloved (1998), based on Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel of the same name. She was in a National Geographic documentary about the Gullah people. (Wikipedia>