Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist who became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.
Called the "punk poet laureate," Smith fused rock and poetry in her work. Her most widely known song is "Because the Night," which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen. It reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978 and number five in the U.K. In 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On November 17, 2010, Smith won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. The book fulfilled a promise she had made to her former long-time roommate and partner, Robert Mapplethorpe. She placed 47th in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Artists published in December 2010 and was also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.
Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago to Beverly Smith, a jazz singer turned waitress, and Grant Smith, who worked as a machinist at a Honeywell plant. The family was of part-Irish ancestry and Patti was the eldest of four children. At the age of 4, Smith's family moved from Chicago to the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, before her family moved to Pitman, New Jersey and later to The Woodbury Gardens section of Deptford Township, New Jersey.
At this early age Smith was exposed to her first records, including Shrimp Boats by Harry Belafonte, Patience and Prudence's The Money Tree, and Another Side of Bob Dylan, which her mother gave to her. Smith graduated from Deptford Township High School in 1964 and went to work in a factory. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on April 26, 1967, and chose to place her for adoption.
In 1967, she left Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and moved to Manhattan. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe there while working at a bookstore with friend and poet Janet Hamill. She and Mapplethorpe had an intense romantic relationship, which was tumultuous as the pair struggled with times of poverty, and Mapplethorpe with his own sexuality. Smith considers Mapplethorpe to be one of the most important people in her life, and in her book Just Kids refers to him as "the artist of my life." Mapplethorpe's photographs of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group albums, and they remained friends until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. She went to Paris with her sister in 1969, and started busking and doing performance art. When Smith returned to Manhattan, she lived in the Hotel Chelsea with Mapplethorpe; they frequented Max's Kansas City and CBGB. Smith provided the spoken word soundtrack for Sandy Daley's art film Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, starring Mapplethorpe. The same year Smith appeared with Wayne County in Jackie Curtis's play Femme Fatale. Afterward, she also starred in Tony Ingrassia's play Island. As a member of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, she spent the early 1970s painting, writing, and performing. In 1971 she performed – for one night only – in Cowboy Mouth, a play that she co-wrote with Sam Shepard. (The published play's notes call for "a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow".) She wrote several poems, "for sam shepard" and "Sam Shepard: 9 Random Years (7 + 2)" about her relationship with Shepard.
Smith was briefly considered for the lead singer position in Blue Öyster Cult. She contributed lyrics to several of the band's songs, including "Debbie Denise" (inspired by her poem "In Remembrance of Debbie Denise"), "Baby Ice Dog", "Career of Evil", "Fire of Unknown Origin", "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (on which she performs duet vocals), and "Shooting Shark". She was romantically involved at the time with the band's keyboardist, Allen Lanier. During these years, Smith also wrote rock journalism pieces, some of which were published in Rolling Stone and Creem.