Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith died Saturday, Jan. 16, at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 82 years old.
Smith, one of Country Music’s most successful entertainers during the 1950s, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. He was born in Maynardville of East Tennessee on March 15, 1927. While in high school, he began his career as a performer on radio personality Cas Walker’s program, featured on WROL in Knoxville. Smith then served in the military on the USS Admiral Sims at the end of World War II. He returned to Knoxville in 1946 and took a job as a guitarist with the Brewster Brothers.
In 1947 and 1948, he traveled as a singer alongside banjoist Hoke Jenkins, but he soon returned to Knoxville as bassist and part-time singer with Skeets Williamson and his sister, Molly O’Day. Smith then worked with “Grandpappy” Archie Campbell, who would gain fame as a comic on Hee Haw. While working with Campbell, Knoxville Dobro player and songwriter George “Speedy” Krise employed Smith as a vocalist on demo songs. These were later sent to talent scout Troy Martin, who was impressed by Smith’s voice.
The best demos were passed along to Jack Stapp of Nashville’s WSM radio and Don Law, producer for Columbia Records. Smith moved to Nashville in March of 1950 to be a part-time singer on WSM’s early morning show. He was not made a regular guest on the Grand Ole Opry until Don Law signed him to his first Columbia Records contract in May.
Smith gained success slowly as a recording artist. “Let’s Live a Little,” “Mr. Moon” and “If Teardrops Were Pennies” boosted his popularity.
He was also able to put together a talented band for recording and touring. The Tunesmiths featured fiddler-manager Hal Smith, Hal’s wife Velma on rhythm guitar, bassist Junior Huskey, steel guitarist Johnny Sibert and former Hank Williams electric guitarist Sammy Pruett.
Smith’s first No. 1 record came in 1951 with the near-million-selling “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way.” The next year brought the big hits “(When You Feel Like You’re in Love) Don’t Just Stand There,” “Are You Teasing Me” and “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World.”
He gained popularity as a TV performer from 1952 through the 1960s. In 1952, he was a host of Kate Smith’s NBC show, Main Street Music Hall. From 1955-1956, he often hosted Albert Gannaway’s Stars of Country Music. In the late 1950s, Smith became a frequent host or guest on ABC’s Jubilee USA. In 1964, he filmed roughly 190 episodes as a host of his own Canadian series, Carl Smith’s Country Music Hall.
Smith was married to June Carter from 1952 to 1957, and their daughter, Carlene Carter, gained fame as a singer-songwriter during the late 1970s. His following marriage to Country singer Goldie Hill began in September 1957 and lasted until her death in 2005. Together they had three children, Lorri Lynn, Carl Jr. and Larry Dean, none of whom became performers.
In 1977, Smith retired as a musician and enjoyed life as a farmer and horse breeder on his ranch. He avoided contact with the music industry he had helped build.
Regrettably, there is no published Carl Smith biography or autobiography.