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Griot Mary Carter Smith

She's known as "Mother Griot" or "Mother Mary," and for most of her 87 years, Mary Carter Smith, a professional storyteller, has been entertaining children and adults with tales she has collected from Africa, Ireland and the Appalachians.

"Actually it's a French word that is pronounced gree-oh rather than gree-ott," said the retired schoolteacher and librarian the other day, who was named Baltimore's griot in 1983, and state griot in 1991.

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Born in Birmingham, Ala., she was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and Baltimore. She began teaching in city schools in 1943. "I also lived for a time in West Virginia, which makes me a black hillbilly," Smith said with a hearty laugh.

The Northeast Baltimore resident has published her autobiography, A Tale That Is Told, and limits her personal appearances to several times a year now.

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"It's been a good life," she said. "I may be 87, but I don't look it and I still like to Charleston and cha-cha-cha."


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