SMOKEY SMITH COUNTRY SINGER AND COUNTRY MUSIC PROMOTER

SMOKEY SMITH  

 

Without
a doubt one of the very best, the most honored, and certainly the most
talented as a country singer and a country music promoter, as well as
being one of my heroes, Smokey Smith passed away following two surgeries
for a traumatic brain injury, February 3rd.  Born in 1922, he’d have
celebrated his 92nd birthday on February 12th.  He was born in Kansas
City, Missouri, on a farm.  He grew up in a rural lifestyle.  His first
radio job was as a singer (and he was a good one) and guitarist for Ted
West and the Range Riders for WREN Radio in Lawrence, Kansas in 1938. 
He moved to California in 1940, working for Consolidated Aircraft
Corporation in San Diego, where he did live radio shows on KYOR every
Saturday morning.   He formed a band called Smokey Smith and the Gold
Coast Boys that played the ballrooms of Southern California.  By 1947 he
was the headliner at the “Hollywood on the Pike” ballroom in Long
Beach.  Bob Duff took Sheila, Bobbie Lhea, and I to this ballroom to see
where Smokey was so popular.  Smokey began recording for a company
called Crystal Records at this time (we have some of these on display in
the Pioneer Music Museum in Anita, Iowa, where he was inducted into
America’s Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, and this is also the time
frame that he met and married his wife Lucille.  Smokey and Lucille
moved to Akron, Ohio, where he was headliner at the Brown Derby.  His
booking agent couldn’t find additional work, or the disc-jockey position
he had promised, so Smokey and Lucille were on their own.  Smokey
auditioned for the National Barn Dance in Chicago which didn’t work, and
finally broke and nowhere to go, he busked on a street corner in
Peoria, Illinois to get enough money to get back to California and his
regular job at the “Hollywood on the Pike” in Long Beach.  In 1949 he
returned to Iowa, where he went to work for KRNT Radio in Des Moines. 
He began booking Grand Ole Opry shows at the KRNT Theater with once a
month shows, September through May.  He had his first ‘live’ country
music television show on KRNT-TV in 1953.  In that same year he was one
of the founding members of the Country Disc Jockey Association &
Hall of Fame in Nashville.  In 1958, the founders agreed to disband the
organization, and changed it to the Country Music Association.  Smokey
was inducted into that Hall of Fame in 1982. He continued promoting
country music shows for the rest of his life, one of the few honest
country music promoters in the business.  Johnny Cash once described him
as “a man of total integrity, which is rare in this business.”  His
wife of 58 years, Lucille, passed away in 2007.  They had two children,
Carol and Leon.  Leon died in a car accident in 1981.  Johnny and June
Carter Cash were so close to Smokey, they canceled gigs while on the
road, chartered a private jet and flew to Des Moines to spend some time
with Smokey and Lucille during this sad time.  Smokey enjoyed performing
for us on all of our festivals, but he especially liked the down-home
atmosphere and common touch of the folks that came to listen to him at
the Oak Tree Opry in Anita, Iowa.  He came to the LeMars Festival the
whole tlme we were there, except for last year.  His biography “Smokey,
The Legendary Life of Mr. Country Music,” written by Terry Manley was
published in 2010, and is still available from Snowflake Enterprises.
 
Bob Everhart for Country Music News International

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