year of induction2003
date of birthMarch 15, 1927
date of deathJanuary 16, 2010
A second famous son of Maynardville, Tennessee—Roy Acuff being the first—Carl M. Smith was one of country music’s most popular hitmakers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Smith grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and to daily country broadcasts on Knoxville stations. In 1944 Cas Walker gave him his first radio work, on Knoxville's WROL. As singer, guitarist, and sometimes bass player, Smith worked with the Knoxville band the Brewster Brothers after military service, and then, between 1947 and 1949, moved many times among Knoxville, Asheville, North Carolina and Augusta, Georgia.
He was back at WROL, working in Archie Campbell’s band, when Knoxville dobro player George “Speedy” Krise made a demo of Smith’s singing and sent it to Troy Martin in Nashville, the Peer-Southern Music publishing representative in the Music City and a top-flight talent scout for Don Law of Columbia Records. Martin liked Smith’s singing, and arranged an audition with Jack Stapp of WSM. After some WSM guest appearances in March 1950, Stapp gave Smith a six-day-a-week morning show in May, with Opry appearances about every third week. Don Law signed Smith to a Columbia contract on May 5, and six days later Smith held his first session in Nashville’s Castle Studios.
WSM took time in developing Smith as a young artist. A year passed before his first hit, but then they came with regularity—intense love songs, for the most part, suitably framed by bandsman Johnny Sibert’s crying steel guitar. “Let's Live A Little” in 1951 was Smith’s first; “Mr. Moon” and “If Teardrops Were Pennies” also made the charts that year.
Friends on the Grand Ole Opry were doing what they could to help Smith’s career. Hank Williams let Smith record his “Me And My Broken Heart” and “There’s Nothing as Sweet as My Baby”; Ernest Tubb, with whom Smith did some of his earliest touring, brought him Jack Henley’s “(When You Feel Like You’re In Love) Don’t Just Stand There.” This song became Smith’s second #1 hit, preceeded by “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way,” his biggest-selling single.
For the next few years, every one of his records made the Top Twenty—sometimes both sides of a single. The Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Teasing Me” went to #1 in 1952, and its flip side, Boudleaux & Felice Bryant’s “It’s A Lovely, Lovely World,” went to #5. This talented couple became favorite Smith song sources after this, supplying “Just Wait ’Til I Get You Alone” (1953), “Hey Joe!” (1953), and “Back Up Buddy” (1954). Four of his releases, culminating in Freddie Hart's “Loose Talk,” were “Triple Crown Winners,” reaching #1 on all three of Billboard’s country charts.
Smith left the Grand Ole Opry toward the end of 1956, amid a welter of behind-the-scenes politics, to take star billing on the Philip Morris Country Music Show, a touring free show sponsored by the cigarette maker, that ran some eighteen months in 1957 and 1958. Television afterward became a favored venue of the handsome Smith. He frequently guested on Red Foley's Jubilee U.S.A., and in 1961 was co-host of its follow-up series, Five Star Jubilee, also out of Springfield, Missouri. Between 1964 and 1969, Smith’s regular TV exposure crossed the border into Canada: He hosted 190 episodes of Carl Smith’s Country Music Hall.
His recording career was hardly dormant during these years. Carl Smith placed at least one record on the country charts every year between 1951 and 1973, which was virtually his entire time recording with Columbia Records. Briefly coaxed back into recording in the late 1970s for Hickory Records, Smith gradually gave up touring and recording to live the life of a gentleman horse breeder on his acres near Franklin, Tennessee.
Twice married to country music performers, Smith and first wife, June Carter (1952–1956, she died in 2003), were parents to singing star Carlene Carter. Since 1957 Smith has been married to Goldie Hill, Decca Records’s Golden Hillbilly and, at the time of their wedding, a co-star on the Philip Morris Country Music Show.
Smith was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. - Ronnie Pugh
- Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.