Seminal ‘50s honky tonk stylist and Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith, 82, died Saturday, January 16 at his home near Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee. The specific cause of death was not made public.
Smith was widely regarded as one of the most important and successful country music hitmakers of the postwar era, first appearing on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 1951 with “Let’s Live a Little.” His successful career spawned 31 top 10 hits during the 1950’s, including five No. 1 songs including “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way,” “Loose Talk” and “Hey, Joe!” Smith’s success in country music played a large role in keeping country music solvent in the wake of the rock and roll invasion that significantly eroded the country music audience during those years, and he placed 99 songs on Billboard’s country charts between 1951-78.
Born March 15, 1927, in the eastern Tennessee town of Maynardville (also the birthplace of country icon Roy Acuff), Smith began his performing career in 1944 at station WROL Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the military during World War II, and performed in bands in Asheville, N.C. and Augusta, Ga., working alongside other notable artists such as Molly O’Day and Archie Campbell.
Smith sang on song demos that ended up on the desk of Peer-Southern executive Troy Martin, who in turn took them to WSM Nashville executive Jack Stapp and Columbia producer Don Law. Smith was signed to the label and hired to perform an early morning show on WSM, and first appeared on the station’s Grand Ole Opry as the guest of Hank Williams in 1950. He remained on Columbia through 1973, and later recorded for Hickory. He was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry through 1956.
Handsome and talented, Smith was also among the first generation of young stars to bring country music to television. He appeared on Kate Smith’s “Main Street Music Hall,” and syndicated shows such as “Stars Of Country Music.” He appeared in a string of B movies including “Buffalo Guns,” and married June Carter in 1952. The couple’s daughter is country singer Carlene Carter, who was born in 1955 before her parents divorced in 1956. Smith married singer Goldie Hill in 1957, and she passed away of cancer in 2005. Smith and Hill are the parents of three children, Lorri Lynn, Carl Jr. and Larry Dean. Smith is survived by all four of his children.
Smith retired from recording and touring in the mid 1970’s, and spent the reminder of his years raising championship cutting horses on his Franklin, Tennessee ranch. He became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. A memorial service was held Tuesday in suburban Nashville.