St. Helena’s Dave Smith was in elite company at last weekend’s Grammy awards.

Mumford & Sons, Adele, Frank Ocean and The Black Keys were among the glamor winners, but Smith also walked away with a prestigious award from the recording industry.

Smith won this year’s Technical Achievement Award, sharing the prize with Ikutaro Kakehashi for an invention from 1982 that allowed musical instruments to “talk” to one another.

Their invention “revolutionized the music world,” rocker Dave Stewart said in a speech praising the duo.

Smith, who has lived and raised a family in St. Helena since the 1980s, said Tuesday that he was still aglow from winning his Grammy. “This is not what you normally expect to come out of St. Helena,” he said.

The honored gizmo is a MIDI, short for “musical instrument digital interface.” It was adopted by all major manufacturers of electronic instruments and helped spur the popularity of home studios, enabling musicians and composers to easily make multitrack recordings, Smith said.

Thirty years since its invention, the MIDI remains a key component of the recording industry, he said. It enables an instrument from the ‘80s to talk to an iPad, he said.

Smith, 62, was accompanied to Los Angeles by his wife Denise and their children, Haley, a software engineer, and Campbell, an electrical engineering major at Sonoma State.

Prior to co-inventing MIDI, Smith had obtained a degree in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley and played in bands. Since MIDI, he’s made his livelihood inventing musical keyboards. His office is in San Francisco.

Dave Smith Instruments competes “against the Yamaha’s of this world,” but with a niche all its own, Smith said. His keyboards are analog, not digital, and are manufactured in the United States, not China, he said.

Radiohead, Alicia Keys, Pink Floyd, Philip Glass and Oscar Peterson have all used Smith’s keyboards. During Sunday night’s Grammy broadcast, Taylor Smith’s band had one on prominent display — a prototype of the Prophet 12.

Smith didn’t share the stage Sunday with the name performers. His award ceremony was Saturday when he and Kakehashi got the Technical Achievement Award and artists such as Carole King and The Temptations won lifetime achievement honors.

Musicians are always looking for fresh sounds, which is why he continues to invent keyboards, Smith said. The demand for innovation never stops, he said.

Smith was at home Tuesday, still admiring his Grammy.

“Right now it’s just sitting on my desk,” he said. “I’m tempted to put it on a chain and wear it around my neck for a few months.”

(3) comments


My first analog synthesizer was a Moog. Next was a very primitive, by today's standards, MIDI. I've been working my way up the MIDI ladder ever since. What's even more incredible is taking my son's analog string instrumental sounds and converting them to MIDI via audio interface. As a songwriter MIDI allows me to put sound ideas down quickly (before I forget them) without doing fifty repeats! I can edit and morph sound now (I used to have a 4 track Teac real to reel and so I come from a place of knowing the difference!)! I also have less dependency on recording studios because of MIDI.

What's most mind boggling is that the person who was the backbone for MIDI and it's evolution lives in the same Upvalley area that I do! Wow!

You deserved a grammy Dave!



I was astonished to see the article in today’s Napa Valley Register about your Grammy award! It was an amazing thing to realize that something I've been a part of almost since its inception lives in the same town as me! I wrote the first (and probably only) OS/2-based MIDI sequencer, am a performing musician, compose music in my home studio, and have taught MIDI and sequencing. I hold a patent for MIDI file translation, which I was awarded when I worked in multimedia at IBM.

Forgive my rambling, but it’s just a real hoot to discover that the man behind (and responsible for) all these activities over the last thirty years lives in St Helena. I have a lot of people to tell about this one!

Sincerest congratulations for your award, and best regards...


I had no idea that one of the inventors of MIDI was a St.Helena resident. Congratulations, Mr.Smith!

An interesting factoid that was missed in the article is that the MIDI standard has remained essentially unchanged since its first widespread use in the commercial market, meaning that the MIDI keyboard you buy today is using the same technical standard as a keyboard from the mid-80's. That's pretty amazing that a technical standard could be so forward-thinking and resilient, especially when we see countless firmware upgrades and patches and "improvements" to existing software and other hardware specifications.

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