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Originally published Saturday, November 12, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Colleagues honor "the rock oracle"

Patti Smith raised a plaque that held a blue eight-track tape with her picture on it. The punk-rock icon received the Woman of Valor award...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Patti Smith raised a plaque that held a blue eight-track tape with her picture on it.

The punk-rock icon received the Woman of Valor award for inspiring others to become musicians during a banquet at the Madison Renaissance Hotel Thursday evening. The gala kicked off the ROCKRGRL Music Conference 2005, which runs through tonight.

Hundreds — including conference attendees from Chicago and Nashville — arrived for this honor, which came on the 30th anniversary of the release of Smith's debut album "Horses."

Friends and colleagues swapped tales of Smith's personal and professional triumphs, then discussed her art and what it means.

"This award needs to go to someone who's unwavering in their artistic integrity," said conference organizer Carla DeSantis.

DeSantis later read an article from a 1995 issue of ROCKRGRL Magazine, which pointed to French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Mick Jagger as Smith's influences.

Music journalist Ann Powers spoke of the artist meeting Jimi Hendrix, sharing a stage with Bruce Springsteen, and later Bob Dylan. Of the artist's retreat into marriage and motherhood. And her return to music.

"Patti Smith's voice is also our voice," said Powers. "Patti Smith, the rock oracle, loses control to take control."

Guitarist Lenny Kaye met the unconventional singer-songwriter "at the dawn of the '70s."

"Patti keeps us going. She doesn't sing a false note. She'll push you forward. She makes me practice — God! But, you know, she makes us all honest."

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde remembered "jammin' under the stars" in Mexico with Smith. Napolitano praised Smith's activism and "remarkable body of work," then handed her the award.

"I was deeply moved that someone would consider the work we've been involved with for over 30 years deserving of that kind of recognition," Smith said. "I wish my mom could see it, 'cause she really liked awards."

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The evening ended with Smith's unwavering voice flooding the ballroom. With flair, she crooned "Redondo Beach" and "Free Money," among others, to the rich sound of Kaye's acoustic guitar.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315

or jhsu@seattletimes.com

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