Artist In Residence: Connie Smith

September 12, 2011

Connie Smith shared the stage with some of her favorite female country artists during her third and final show as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2011 artist-in-residence.

“Tonight’s show is about me and the girls,” Smith said at the outset of the September 12 concert in the museum’s Ford Theater. “The girls that have influenced me, and the girls that have come after me-that have become friends of mine and sing some of my music every now and then.”

Recognizing her predecessors, Smith sang Jean Shepard’s 1955 hit “I Thought of You” before calling upon Shepard to sing “Slippin’ Away,” a Bill Anderson composition that Shepard popularized in 1973. Smith explained that an early career break came in 1963 when she won a talent contest in Ohio by singing “I Thought of You.” First prize included five silver dollars and the opportunity to sing on a Grand Ole Opry package show, which led to an invitation from Anderson to come to Nashville.

Smith thanked Shepard, a new member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, for blazing a path for women in country music. “She has very much been an influence in my life,” Smith said. “I love the purity of her voice. You can hear every word and they ring true as a bell.”

Later Smith acknowledged Kitty Wells for breaking barriers for women and sang Wells’s 1952 groundbreaking hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Smith was joined on the song by Shepard and other special guests Tanya Tucker, Martina McBride, and the Quebe Sisters, all of whom were eager to pay tribute to the night’s headliner.

“This is my hero right here,” Tucker said of Smith, explaining that she had listened to all of Smith’s records. Tucker jokingly admitted that she had “stolen everything” from Smith, before humorously imitating Smith’s distinctive vocal phrasing.

Tucker performed the Bill Anderson-Jan Howard composition “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” which she learned from Smith’s 1970 Top Five recording. At Smith’s request Tucker also performed “Changes,” a modest hit Tucker co-wrote in the early 1980s.

Introducing McBride, Smith noted that the two of them share a deep love for songs, and that each is very particular about the material they choose to perform. “She sings every song she sings like she means it,” Smith said.
They performed a duet of “Once a Day,” Smith’s signature song, which McBride covered on her 2005 covers album, Timeless. “Once a Day,” the third Anderson composition of the evening, is the only song Smith performed on all three shows of her artist-in-residence series. The themes, surprise guests, and repertoire of each show varied greatly, with Smith displaying her devotion to the steel guitar on the August 22 show and highlighting her close relationship with songwriters on August 29.

At Smith’s request, McBride also performed “Where I Used to Have a Heart,” one of her lesser-known singles, from 1995.

While Smith’s music and career has been an inspiration to veteran country stars Tucker and McBride, she also is passing the torch to Grace, Sophia, and Hulda Quebe, youthful siblings from Fort Worth, Texas, who all play the fiddle and sing in three-part harmony. Smith introduced the Quebe Sisters Band by hailing the way they are keeping traditional country music alive; she reiterated that country music is in good hands after the Quebes performed Smith’s 1965 hit “If I Talk to Him.”

Smith also performed several songs on her own, backed by her band, the Sundowners, consisting of steel guitarist Gary Carter, bassist Rod Ham, guitarist Rick Wright, and drummer Ric McClure. Acoustic guitarist Mark Casstevens and multi-instrumentalist Paul Martin also sat in for most of the evening.

Smith opened with her 1966 smash “Ain’t Had No Lovin’” and followed it with “A Heart Like You,” a new song from her album Long Line of Heartaches. Both were written by Dallas Frazier, who has supplied Smith with sixty-nine songs over the course of her career. Frazier was seated in the capacity audience that also included Smith’s husband, Marty Stuart, and fellow Opry stars Ricky Skaggs and The Whites.

Smith also performed “Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry,” “The Key’s in the Mailbox,” “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” Burning a Hole in My Mind,” and “Anymore.” She closed by singing a new gospel number, “Take My Hand,” backed by her daughters Jodi Seyfried, Jeanne Haynes, and Julie Barnick. After receiving a standing ovation Smith encored with the Martha Carson classic “Satisfied.”

-Michael Gray