Country Musician Getting A Heroine's Welcome Home

Country music singer Connie Smith, who spent her childhood in Summers County, will be inducted in the West Virginia Hall of Fame Saturday Night. Smith said she has fond memories of her childhood near Hinton.

This appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail - October 13, 2011

It's been 60 years since she lived in West Virginia, but country singer Connie Smith embraces it as home and is delighted to return Saturday, October 15, 2011 for her induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

"I'm proud to be there," said Smith, who said two of her sisters and their husbands and a nephew and his wife will be on hand for the ceremony at the state Culture Center.

Smith celebrated her 70th birthday in August with the release of a new CD, Long Line of Heartaches, on Sugar Hill Records. Produced by her husband, country star Marty Stuart, it features him playing acoustic guitar.

Although she was born in Indiana, Smith came to West Virginia when she was 5 months old and lived in the Hinton area until she was 10.

"My mother was born around Beckley and Daddy was from Hinton," she said.

Smith spoke fondly of a special West Virginia memory — chinky-pins.

"That's a nut that grows in West Virginia," she said. "It has a sticky outside, but inside they are so sweet and good."

(A quick Internet search reveals chinky-nuts are a slang reference to chinkapins or chinquapins, which come from the chestnut family.)

She also has an early memory of singing.

"I was very small; my brother was in diapers, so I was 4 or 5 at most, when we moved to a place in Forest Hill, West Virginia," she said. "It was a little camp by the river. I was sitting in this big overstuffed chair while some people were helping Mama and Daddy move our things in, and I was singing away in the chair. I remember these people were looking at me."

She remembers being embarrassed. "I was the one who hid under the table when anyone came over," she said.

At some point, Smith obviously overcame the fear of singing — and being — among strangers. She recalls listening to the Grand Ole Opry every chance she could, soaking up the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

"I never had any teaching as far as voice goes," she said. But at 22, already married and living in Ohio, her voice caught the attention of country songwriter Bill Anderson when she won a local talent contest.

Anderson told her she should move to Nashville, where he helped secure her RCA recording contract. Her first single, "Once a Day," was released in August 1964 and stayed at No. 1 on country charts for an amazing eight weeks.

Smith would go on to have 19 Top 10 hits through the 1960s and '70s, with a voice that has been compared to Patsy Cline and phrasing compared to Frank Sinatra — impossible to copy, as Martina McBride told her when the two did a recent duet of "Once a Day."

At one point, Sissonville native Gary Boggs was her steel guitar player.

"Gary was like my brother," Smith said of the late musician. "After the shows — we always worked these fairs and festivals — he'd always want to grab a bunch of us and go on the rides. It'd scare me to death. One night we rode the Zipper, and I didn't have time to be scared because in the car above us was Faron Young. His language was pretty bad, and he was saying every bad word in the world. Gary and I couldn't even breathe; we were laughing so hard."

By Monica Orosz

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