‘Someday I’m gonna sing on the Grand Ole Opry:’ Uncovering Connie Smith

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Accumulating 31 Top 20 C&W Billboard singles between 1964 and 1977 including a definitive reading of Bill Anderson’s hurtin’ break-up ballad “Once a Day,” the first-ever debut single by a female country artist to reach No. 1, Connie Smith luminously greets her loyal fans in this circa 1966 publicity still for RCA Victor Records. After reading this story John W. Harris, who briefly played bass for Jerry Reed in the late ’80s as well as three gigs for Smith during the same time frame, said, “Connie was absolutely the sweetest woman I ever worked for. At rehearsals she would bake us cookies.” Image Credit: The Connie Smith Collection

The Connie Smith Interview, Part One

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Eight-year-old Connie Smith is missing a few front teeth but nevertheless cute as a button growing up in Forest Hill, West Virginia, circa 1949. According to an AllMusic biography written by John Bush, Smith’s childhood was fraught with tension. “Perhaps overly compared to and identified with Patsy Cline, Smith is still considered by many to be one of the best and most underrated vocalists in country history,” said Bush. “Her lonely desperation came straight from the heart; also, her father was abusive when she was a child, causing Smith to suffer a mental breakdown while she was in her teens.” Image Credit: The Connie Smith Collection / Connie Smith Fan Tribute Facebook group / appears in the CD booklet for “My Part of Forever Vol. 1: The Ultimate Collection 1972–2018”
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First ladies of the Grand Ole Opry Skeeter Davis, Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan, Jeanne Pruett, and Loretta Lynn look dazzling in rhinestone-encrusted dresses— in spite of the cheesy hair perms — circa 1985 in Nashville, Tennessee. Image Credit: Pinterest user Marjorie Chambers
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Born Constance June Meador, future country hitmaker Connie Smith, clad in a Hawaiian lei and flower in her hair, strums a Gibson acoustic guitar while extolling the virtues of Dole Hawaiian pineapples on the set of “Big Red Jubilee.” The local WTAP television show was broadcast out of Parkersburg, West Virginia, starting on November 21, 1963, the day before President John F. Kennedy’s senseless assassination. Smith departed “Big Red Jubilee,” her second local TV program following WSAZ’s “Saturday Night Jamboree,” by early August 1964, a few weeks after recording debut single “Once a Day” at RCA’s renowned Studio B in Nashville. Image Credit: The Connie Smith Collection / Nashville Public Radio
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22-year-old future “Rolls-Royce of Country Singers” Connie Smith signs on the dotted line of an official RCA Victor recording contract in the presence of singer-songwriter Bill Anderson [left] and producer Bob Ferguson circa July 16, 1964, at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee. Anderson discovered Smith singing a cover of Jean Shepard’s “I Thought of You” in a contest at Frontier Ranch in Columbus, Ohio. Image Credit: Pinterest user Bianca Carolina
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Connie Smith becomes contemplative on the vinyl cover of her self-titled debut, a No. 1 C&W, No. 105 POP Billboard album issued in March 1965 on RCA Victor Records. Bill Anderson, incredibly still scoring hits as a songwriter in the 21st century for Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley, and George Strait, penned half of the record’s 12 cuts, including the chart-topping “Once a Day” and the No. 4 C&W follow-up single “Then and Only Then.” Image Credit: Country Music Magazine / Sony Music Entertainment
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On August 15, 2009, steel guitar legend Weldon Myrick is honored by the Nashville Cats Series hosted by the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Left to right are lead guitarist Harold Bradley, pianist Pig Robbins, singer-songwriter Bill Anderson, Connie Smith, Myrick, and producer-guitarist Jerry Kennedy. All the assembled musicians worked prolifically at RCA Studio B with the “Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry” in the ’60s and ’70s. Image Credit: The Weldon Myrick Collection
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Circa January 1970, Nashville heavy-hitters and RCA Victor label mates Chet Atkins, Connie Smith, Bobby Bare, Skeeter Davis, Nat Stuckey and George Hamilton IV find themselves in the same corral. Smith and Stuckey notched two duet singles —a No. 20 C&W reading of the ubiquitous ballad “Young Love” and “If God Is Dead [Who’s This Living in My Soul]” — plus two ensuing collaborative albums between 1969 and 1970. Davis and Hamilton placed a country interpretation of the Youngbloods’ “Let’s Get Together” briefly on Billboard in 1970. And last but not least, Davis partnered up with Bare for 1965’s No. 11 C&W single 45 “A Dear John Letter” and 1970’s No. 22 C&W “Your Husband, My Wife.” By April 1970 Bare had temporarily surrendered his RCA Victor contract and was recording career milestones “How I Got to Memphis” and “Come Sundown” for Mercury. Image Credit: Pinterest user Miguel Saiz Garcia
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22-year-old Connie Smith finishes signing an official RCA Victor recording contract in the presence of singer-songwriter Bill Anderson [left] and producer Bob Ferguson circa July 16, 1964, at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee. July 16 was the first day that Smith held a recording session, resulting in chart-topper “Once a Day,” its B-side “The Threshold,” and album cuts “I’m Ashamed of You,” and “Darling, Are You Ever Coming Home?” Anderson, who composed every song except the latter Hank Cochran / Willie Nelson co-write, discovered Smith singing a cover of Jean Shepard’s “I Thought of You” in a contest at Frontier Ranch in Columbus, Ohio, in 1963. Image Credit: The Connie Smith Collection / Nashville Public Radio
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A gleeful, spiritually secure Connie Smith and mentor-RCA Victor producer Bob Ferguson are seen in Nashville’s RCA Studio B circa 1965. Besides overseeing Smith’s RCA recording session tenure from July 1964 to November 1972, the multi-faceted Ferguson worked extensively with Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Helen Cornelius, Charley Pride, and Jerry Reed and achieved a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University. Ferguson also pioneered the lush, orchestrated Nashville Sound with Chet Atkins in the late ’50s and composed Ferlin Husky’s gospel anthem “Wings of a Dove” and Porter Wagoner’s frequently requested “Carroll County Accident.” Image Credit: The Connie Smith Collection / appears in the CD booklet for “My Part of Forever Vol. 1: The Ultimate Collection 1972–2018”

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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