CBN.com Connie Smith was born to sing on August 14, 1941 in Elkhart, Indiana. Although originally from Indiana, she spent her early years around Hinton, West Virginia, and then grew up in southern Ohio.
Following her high school graduation, she began singing locally at area frolics and on area television shows. It was at the country music park, Frontier Ranch, near Columbus, Ohio where Connie met Grand Ole Opry Star Bill Anderson. Anderson heard her perform and was impressed with her singing. Six months later Anderson invited her to Nashville to be a guest on the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree. Within a year following her first visit to Music City, Connie was signed to RCA Victor Records by Chet Atkins and released the first recording of her career. The song, Once A Day, topped the charts at number one where it stayed for an unprecedented eight weeks.
Smith’s recording of Once A Day became the first debut single in country music history by a female artist to reach number one, a record that Smith maintained for the next 25 years. Her self-titled LP also reached number one, and served as the first of over 50 albums Smith has recorded to date.
Along with her string of hit singles and albums, she became a solid box office contender and appeared in a series of what are now regarded as country cult classic films. Connie appeared in Las Vegas Hillbillies, Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar, Hell On Wheels, and co-starred with Marty Robbins and Doodles Weaver in The Road to Nashville.
The wake of Connie’s success carried her onto the stage of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry as a featured guest performer. Her first 22 performances resulted in 22 encores. On August 21, 1965 Connie Smith was welcomed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry family. The king of country music, Roy Acuff gave her the title of “The Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry.”
In a matter of four years Connie Smith evolved from a local housewife to one of the top artists in country music. She was referred to by fans and critics alike as “Country Music’s Cinderella.” However, in the midst of one of Nashville’s most notable ascents, Smith was by her own design a reluctant star. Her main priority was her family. Among the many changes over the past four years, a major change in Connie Smiths life occurred in the spring of 1968; she became a born again Christian. Her life as a new child of God and some of her musical and personal decisions during this period are more often than not, the point in Smith’s story where the facts go askew. The most common myth being that when she became a Christian, she began a ministry, and quit singing country music to be a gospel singer. Smith states, “Becoming a Christian changed my life and gave me new life. It added depth to me and my music as well, whether I sing a country song or a sacred song. However, I have never thought of myself as anything but a country singer.
“By this time in my life I had my five children and there simply wasn’t enough of me to go around. I had my family, my faith and my music. Something had to give and I had a choice to make. Giving up the first two wasn’t an option. At the time, I had a house full of babies and like most young mothers I didn’t realize the situation was temporary. I made a decision to stop recording and touring. The majority of my performances were limited to the Grand Ole Opry. I knew that decision would affect my career and not in a positive way. But I’ve always been at perfect peace with that decision. However, when my youngest of five started kindergarten I realized that it was those same babies who were now growing up and needed to be clothed, fed and put through school. That was the deciding factor for me to start touring again. After all of the kids were grown and the last one moved away from home, I then felt I was free to pursue my love for music, recording and songwriting which is something I’d seldom had time for.”
As the ninth decade of the twentieth century rolled on, so did Connie Smith. After a chance encounter with fellow country star, Marty Stuart, she asked him if he’d be interested in working with her. They co-wrote most of the 1996 self titled Warner Brothers project which Stuart co-produced. Their working relationship became an unexpected romance and today, they have been married for more than a decade. They continue to collaborate as artists and songwriters. Smith and Stuart have now written more than 40 songs together. Two of particular note are “Farmer’s Blues” and “Hearts Like Ours.” “Farmers’ Blues” is the song that Stuart recorded with Merle Haggard. It was included in Stuart’s duets projects entitled Compadres. “Hearts Like Ours,” one of their rare duets is also featured on the same project.
In 2000, Smith re-assembled an archetypal country band using the template of her original Sundowners from the 1960s. The newly minted combo is regarded as one of the last remaining authentic country bands in existence. In an era of country music whose point of reference is more the Rolling Stones than George Jones, The Sundowners are a defiant hillbilly force that stand as a monument to classic country music. They back Smith with a fiery wall of steel guitar-drenched twang that’s cooled by an endless stream of telecaster teardrops.
In 2002, Smith was voted in at No. 9 on CMT’s Greatest Women of Country Music. Connie Smith’s favorite male country singer, George Jones, returns the compliment by naming her as his favorite female country singer of all time. Dolly Parton has also credited Smith by once saying, “There’s only three real female singers; Barbara Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.”
In 2003, Smith joined forces with Opry sister Sharon White Skaggs and fellow country star Barbara Fairchild. The trio released a Gospel album titled Love Never Fails. The project was produced by bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs and was nominated for a Dove Award by the Gospel Music Association.
Fans of Connie Smith will soon have new projects from her to listen to. She and Stuart have been writing and gathering songs and as Stuart puts it, “We are well on our journey back into the recording studio to begin work on one of the three projects that we have in mind to do. The first is a traditional country collection; in wings are a gospel set and an acoustic offering.”
Connie and her band, The Sundowners, still maintain a regular concert schedule as well as appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. She can also be seen as a regular on Stuart’s new, weekly television series, The Marty Stuart Show, that airs on Saturday nights on the RFD network.
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