Connie Smith - One Of A Kind

This appeared in Music City News - February 1999

Ask Connie Smith what her goals are and she'll probably tell you she's already achieved them. You see, Smith doesn't put a lot of stock in things like gold records or No. 1 hits, although she's had her share of them. The only real goal Smith has ever had, she achieved over 30 years ago when she first sang on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

It's not that she lacks motivation. It's just that, for Smith, music isn't so much a business as a means of expression. It's also a passion. However, she tells me in an interview at her publicist's office, she'd be just as content "singing in my kitchen" as having an audience of thousands.

Smith readily admits that throughout her life she's battled a crippling shyness and often has trouble performing under the scrutiny of an audience. The worst time, she recalls, was when she first sang at the Grand Ole Opry. "I've always heard of your knees knocking and they literally do when you're frightened enough," she says. "I was so scared. I had absolutely no control over my voice. I don't know if I'd ever want to hear a tape of that performance!" she laughs.

Smith is one of the most unassuming personalities in country music, with a charming humbleness and down-home manner that believe the fact that she's one of the most revered entertainers in the world and many a country legend has cited her as an inspiration. "There's really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending," long time fan Dolly Parton has often said.

Bill Anderson would surely agree with Parton's sentiments--he discovered Smith and helped launch one of the only true overnight success stories in country music. It all started in 1964 in Smith's hometown of Columbus, Ohio, where Anderson was judging a local talent contest. Connie, coerced into entering the contest by her then-husband and a group of friends, took the stage and belted out Jean Shepard's "I Thought Of You." She won the contest hands down, and Anderson was so impressed with her vibrant voice that he encouraged her to come to Nashville.

A few months later she did, first performing on Ernest Tubb's radio show and, within a few months, signing for her first recording contract. She recorded her hit single, "Once A Day," which gained No. 1 status almost immediately after its release and stayed at the top of the charts for a whopping 10 weeks. Over the next 14 years, she released over 40 albums and toured extensively.

However, in 1978, the music stopped. At the height of her career, Smith, to the amazement and disbelief of the entire musical community, announced she was retiring from the music business to raise her five children. It's a decision she's never regretted. "It wasn't hard to quit because I sing all of the time," she says simply. "I can sing if I'm in the kitchen washing dishes. Or if I'm driving down the street and the car radio is on. So I didn't give up my singing. I gave up working in the business. It just wasn't hard for me. What was hard for me was leaving the house with my kids crying at the door."

Now that her children are grown (the youngest is 22), Smith says that she can now concentrate on what she loves doing best. And her newly released self-titled album is proof that, although two decades have passed, she hasn't lost her touch. If anything, her rich voice has grown more soulful, matured by time and a wisdom that only comes from a life well-lived.

While the album has received numerous accolades and its first single, "Lonesome," is rapidly rising on the Americana charts, Smith admits that making the album was a challenge, albeit one with a positive outcome. "Thing have changed," she says, referring to her 20-year absence from the recording studio. "I'd gotten to be, I think, a road singer, rather than a studio singer. And I'd gotten used to kind of forging ahead. No matter what band I was with, I kind of took the reins. Where the ideal way is to rest in the arms of the music."

Smith has also found a new love in songwriting and she co-wrote all but one song on her album with her husband, country music artist Marty Stuart. "He's great to write with," she says. "He's fun. We laugh and we's a very easy thing."

It's clear that Smith's found her soulmate in Stuart, whom she married in 1997 and who is 17 years her junior. And while he's now her husband, he first met Smith as a 12-year-old fan after one of her concerts. "I was doing the Choctaw Indian Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi," she says. "He had his mama go buy him a new shirt to come see my show. And so I met him then. He told his mom on the way home that night that someday he was going to marry me. He just didn't tell me for 25 years!"

The two met for the second time six years ago when both were playing in a celebrity softball tournament. And, as she recalls, sparks flew from the very beginning. "He's a genius," she says admiringly of her fourth husband ("Third time's a charm, fourth time's for life!" she quips). "But what attracted me to Marty is his heart and his honesty. He's special."

When the two aren't busy with their respective careers, they can be found "just hanging out" on the porch of their riverfront home or riding in their Jeep through the countryside. And, although they make a great songwriting team, they have no plans to tour together. "There have been misconceptions," she says, "that since Marty and I are married, we tour together. That would be nice, but we don't."

After 20 years, Smith is trying to get back in the swing of touring, a necessary part of the music business with which she's never really felt comfortable, in large part due to her bashfulness. "I'd just as soon be singing at the house," she reiterates. "But I love people and I love singing."

Although she still considers herself to be shy, Smith credits her deep faith in God with helping her, bit by bit, to overcome her problem. "The most important thing in my life is what God has done for me," she says. "He makes everything easier, more bearable. I always used to sign my autographs 'Connie Smith, Matthew 6:33' which is 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you.' " That one verse, she says, sums up her philosophy on life. "If you live by that," she smiles, "everything will be cool."

By Jennifer Key

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