Riverside resident Karena Smith, known professionally and to her friends as Karena Mendoza, died July 3, 2014 of cancer at the age of 52.
Ms. Smith was an award-winning composer, vocalist and beloved piano and voice teacher whose career spanned three continents.
Born Karen Gail Smith on July 18, 1961 in Johannesburg, South Africa, she was the fifth and youngest child of George William Smith and Isabella Ethel Mendoza Smith.
Early on she displayed a gift for singing and studied at the National School of Arts secondary school. At the age of 18 she was admitted to the opera program at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and studied voice under internationally known opera singer Joyce Barker and piano under Hester Beukes, who became her mentor.
She later left the program and supported herself by teaching and assorted day jobs. During a period of doubt about music as a profession, she entered an international singing contest where she caught the attention of one prominent judge who “ordered” her, one the basis of three auditions and a dream to buy a ticket for Vienna.
In 1990, she left for Vienna where she continued her music studies, was a finalist in a competition called The Next Generation of Opera Singers and collaborated with Austrian composer Boris Koller on pop songs that made it past the first round of the Eurovision Song Contest.
She later concentrated on composing songs after meeting women who survived the horrors of the Bosnian War and collaborated on a documentary to raise awareness about what had happened there.
In 1997, Ms. Smith immigrated to the United States, where she came into her own as a composer, writing award-winning songs for a musical (Africa and Plumbridge), a choral work (Requiem for a Refugee), a musical comedy (How to Marry and Englishman) which is being adapted as a film and award-winning children’s music.
Locally, Ms. Smith was artist-in-residence at Riverside Presbyterian Church and taught dozens of voice and piano students.
She is survived by her wife, Jeanne Clark; her stepchildren, Caitlin Clark and Ian Clark; her sister, Sharon (Keith) Harebottle; her brother, Glenn (Michelle) Smith; her sister-in-law, Lorraine Smith; and her nieces and nephews, Marilyn Harebottle, Bruce Harebottle, Adrienne Harebottle, Patrick Smith, Jessica Smith, Mark, Smith, Andrew Smith, Duncan Smith and Debbie Smith.
Services have been held. Memorial donations are appreciated to Erie Family Clinic, 1701 W. Superior St., 3rd Floor, Chicago, Illinois, 60622 or to Horizon Hospice at www.horizonhospice,org.
Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home, Riverside, handled arrangements.