Smith was born in Birmingham in 1881, and was a child prodigy on the cello. By 1910, Smith had emigrated to Canada and was quickly hired by Frank Welsman to play for his Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
As a teacher at the University of Toronto from 1927 to 1950, Smith became the influence for many of Canada’s future musical leaders; among his students were Louis Applebaum, John Beckwith, and Margaret Sargent.
Smith also wrote three widely-used music textbooks, and was principal cellist with the Toronto Symphony for eight years. He commonly used Quebec folk songs and West Coast aboriginal songs in his compositions.