Carl Smith, 82

Country Music Hall of Fame singer Carl Smith dies at 82

Singer and guitarist Carl Smith was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
Singer and guitarist Carl Smith was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. (Cbs Radio)
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By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 2010

Carl Smith, 82, a singer and guitarist who became one of country music's most popular and durable performers and who was the first husband of singer June Carter, died Jan. 16 at his home in Franklin, Tenn., of complications from a stroke.

Dubbed "The Country Gentleman," Mr. Smith developed a singing style that captured the raw twang of Hank Williams Sr. and Roy Acuff but smoothed their rough edges. The approach gave him many hit records, with a string of 21 consecutive Top 10 Billboard country songs from 1951 to 1955. He remained a consistent hitmaker into the 1970s.

"He was ruggedly handsome and wore custom-tailored clothes," said John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. "Back then, when people wanted to see a star, they didn't want to see someone in blue jeans. They wanted someone who looked like a star. And he was smart enough to pick really good, commercial songs."

Many of Mr. Smith's songs reflected a swaggering ladies' man image on such up-tempo numbers as "(When You Feel Like You're In Love) Don't Just Stand There," "Go Boy Go" and "You Are The One." But he also had a penchant for slower, plaintivesongs such as "I Overlooked An Orchid (While Looking For A Rose)" and "Are You Teasing Me"

Carl M. Smith was born March 15, 1927, in Maynardville, Tenn., near Knoxville. As a youngster, he listened to country music on the Grand Ole Opry as well as the local Knoxville stations and mowed neighbors' lawns to pay for his guitar lessons. He first performed as a teenager on Knoxville station WROL on a show sponsored by a local grocer. He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1947.

In 1950, Troy Martin, a representative of the Peer-Southern publishing company, heard a demonstration record of Mr. Smith and secured him an audition with WSM, a 50,000-watt radio station in Nashville. On WSM, he started performing six days a week on a 5 a.m. broadcast and soon graduated to the station's national Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. That year, he made his first records for Columbia Records, an association that lasted 23 years.

Mr. Smith's band, the Tunesmiths, featured steel guitarist Johnny Sibert, who added an element of western swing to Mr. Smith's style. The lineup also included a drummer, although the Opry management would not allow him to work with more than a snare on the broadcasts.

Mr. Smith often performed with singer June Carter, to whom he was married from 1952 to 1956. A daughter from their marriage, Rebecca Carlene Smith, is a successful country rock musician who performs as Carlene Carter. June Carter later married entertainer Johnny Cash.

Mr. Smith's second wife, the singer Goldie Hill, whom he married in 1957, also performed with him. She died in 2005.

In addition to Carlene Carter, survivors include two sons and a daughter.

His skill in selecting songs led Mr. Smith into the publishing business. He started Cedarwood Publishing in 1954 with Opry booking agent Jim Denny and country singer Webb Pierce.

After Denny had a falling out with the Opry management, Mr. Smith left the Opry's regular cast in 1956 and joined the Philip Morris Country Music Show, a touring troupe sponsored by the tobacco company in competition with Opry sponsors R.J. Reynolds. The show lasted 18 month, charged no admission and often deliberately performed in the same city on the same day as a Reynolds-hosted Opry show. Real estate investments and song publishing allowed Mr. Smith to retire from performing in the late 1970s. He bred quarter horses on his 500-acre ranch in Franklin. Although he recorded one more album in 1983, Mr. Smith essentially remained out of the limelight.

On hearing of his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003, Mr. Smith told the Nashville Tennessean, "I was afraid I was going to have to die before this happened."

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