Country Music Hall Of Fame Adds Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, Hargus 'Pig' Robbins

This appeared on The Boot - March 6, 2012

Country Music Hall of Fame member Dolly Parton once famously declared, "There's really only three female singers in the world: Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending." Born Constance June Meador on August 14, 1941, in Elkhart, Indiana. to Hobart and Wilma Lilly Meador, Connie's parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother married Tom Clark. Together, the Clarks raised a blended family of 14 children. Music was everywhere in the Clark home, and all of her family and step-family were musical. Also ever-present in the home were the familiar strains of the Grand Ole Opry. After a leg injury in a lawnmower accident at age 18, Connie bought an uncle's guitar for seven dollars. Her mother taught her the first chords she learned while she was recuperating. In 1961, at the age of 19, she married her first husband, Jerry Smith and gave birth to her first son, Darren Justin Smith, in 1963. That same year, the 22-year old housewife performed a version of Jean Shepard's "I Thought of You" in a talent contest at Frontier Ranch, near Columbus, Ohio, where she was overheard by singer-songwriter Bill Anderson. A few months later in January 1964, the pair met again at a Hank Williams tribute concert, where he invited her to come to Nashville to sing on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree. She sang her first song in Nashville there on March 28, 1964. Two months later, she returned to Music City to record a demo of songs to be pitched to other artists. When Hubert Long, Bill Anderson's manager, played the demo for Chet Atkins, Chet offered Connie a deal with RCA Victor Records.

On July 16, 1964, during her first four-song recording session with producer Bob Ferguson (who would go on to produce all of her albums for RCA Victor), Connie recorded "Once a Day," which Bill Anderson had written especially for her. Two weeks later, it was rush-released as her first single and quickly reached No. 1 on the country chart, remaining at the top spot for eight record-setting weeks. The following year, she earned three Grammy nominations and her self-titled debut album spent seven weeks at No. 1. To date, Connie has recorded 33 songs penned by Bill Anderson. Later in 1965, she joined the Grand Ole Opry. A series of chart-topping albums and best-selling singles followed, including "I Can't Remember," "If I Talk to Him," "Nobody But a Fool (Would Love You)" and "Ain't Had No Lovin'," which is one of 71 songs she has recorded written by the legendary songwriter Dallas Frazier.

After her first marriage ended, Connie married guitarist Jack Watkins, and gave birth to a son, Kerry Watkins. The marriage was short-lived. In 1966, she recorded her first gospel album, 'Connie Smith Sings Great Sacred Songs,' earning another Grammy nomination. During her third marriage, to Marshall Haynes, Connie gave birth to three daughters, Jeanne, Julie and Jodi Haynes. In 1971, she left RCA Records and was signed by Clive Davis to Columbia Records in 1973. She stayed with Columbia until 1976, earning more hits and receiving another Grammy nod for Best Gospel Performance. In 1977, she began recording for Monument Records, taking the more pop-country-oriented "Smooth Sailing," into the Top 10 and a cover of Andy Gibb's "I Just Wanna Be Your Everything," to No. 14 in 1978. In 1979, Connie entered semi-retirement to focus on raising her five children. She still performed on the Grand Ole Opry and occasionally recorded. One of her two singles for Epic Records in the mid-'80s was "A Far Cry From You," penned by a then-unknown Steve Earle with Jimbeau Hinson.

Her children grown, Connie, who was single again, decided to return to her career on a more full-time basis. She signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1996 and began working with fellow country artist Marty Stuart as her producer. Marty had enamored with Connie since meeting her more than 25 years prior when he was just twelve years old. She had come to the youngster's hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi to sing at the Choctaw Indian Fair. On the way home from the concert that evening, Marty told mother he "would marry Connie Smith some day." While working together on her album, the two fell in love and were married in 1997. Connie's second self-titled album was released in 1998, with nine of the 10 songs co-written by the newlyweds. In 2011, "I Run to You," a Connie-Marty duet earned Mrs. Marty Stuart her 11th Grammy nomination.

Connie has been a fixture on her husband's RFD-TV series The Marty Stuart Show since its 2008 debut. The show just finished its fourth season as the No. 1-rated series on the network. Last year, Smith released her long-awaited 53rd album, Long Line of Heartaches, on Sugar Hill Records. Produced by Marty, the album contains five songs written by the couple and was recorded at Nashville's historic RCA Studio B, returning the acclaimed singer full circle to the very studio where she recorded the first sessions that launched her career.

George Jones named her his favorite singer, Elvis Presley was an avowed fan who owned many of her albums and had plans to record a version of her song "The Wonders You Perform" before he passed away in 1977, and, after being introduced to Smith, Keith Richards immediately brought his fellow Rolling Stone Ron Wood over to meet her, exclaiming "She's the real deal!"

Considered country music's highest honor, election to the Country Music Hall of Fame was created by the CMA (Country Music Association) to recognize significant contributions to the advancement of country music by individuals in both the creative and business communities.

Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Fred Rose were the first members elected to the Hall of Fame in 1961.

By Stephen L. Betts

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