Stuart And Smith, Together In Music And Love

This appeared in the Tennessee Star Journal - August 31, 2005

He was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi; she was born in Indiana. He only had one sister; she was one of fourteen children. He got his first real guitar when he was five years old. He taught himself how to play it. Her first guitar cost $7 and she learned to play while recuperating from a leg injury.

When he was twelve years old, she came to his hometown to perform a concert. He asked his mom to buy a special yellow shirt so he would stand out in the crowd and she would notice him. So overwhelmed by her, he informed his mother that evening he would someday marry the singer. Twenty-seven years later, Marty Stuart married Connie Smith. It would be a long road to wedlock, but the end result is all that matters.

Connie was already married with a four-month old son when she was talked into entering a talent contest at a theme park near Columbus, Ohio. She won the contest and met the man who would be responsible for changing her life.

Bill Anderson was performing at the park that day. He heard Connie sing and introduced himself to her. About six months later, Connie attended an Anderson concert in Canton, Ohio. They talked again and he suggested she should come to Nashville. She accepted his invitation and soon found herself singing on Ernest Tubb's Midnite Jamboree. Two months later, Connie and her family were living in Nashville and she was singing demos for Bill and anyone else who would listen.

Chet Atkins was one who listened. He signed Connie to a recording contract with RCA Records. In July 1964, Connie recorded her first record, "Once A Day," written by Bill Anderson. It was released in August and by November, it was #1 on the country charts where it remained for two-and-a-half months. More Top 10 hits followed and she was named Most Promising Country Female Singer in 1964 and 1965.

A devout Christian, Connie refused to allow her family to take a back seat to her career. By now she had five children. She suspended recording and touring for several years while raising her two boys and three girls.

Connie had become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965 and following her return in 1971, she rejoined the Opry. She is still referred to as the Sweetheart of the Opry. Connie has recorded more than 40 albums and is in constant demand for personal appearances.

Marty Stuart's dream, other than marrying Connie Smith, was music. School held no interest for him. He was traveling on the weekends with a bluegrass band, The Sullivan Family, when he was twelve years old. Lester Flatt hired him to play in his band when he was thirteen. Lester assured Marty's parents he would see that Marty finished his education.

When Lester Flatt died in 1979, 20-year-old Marty earned his living on the road and as a sessions musician, including playing on albums by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Billy Joel.

Johnny Cash invited him to join his band. He was with Cash for six years until deciding -- since he had been a sideman his entire musical career -- it was time to move up front.

CBS Records signed Marty and in 1986 released his first album, Marty Stuart. The first single, "Arlene," broke into Billboard's Top 20, but the album had little chart success. CBS scrapped the follow-up album and Marty left the label.

Dejected, he returned to Mississippi to connect with his roots and prayed for a sign from God. The sign came when Jerry Sullivan called and asked if he knew anyone who could play a mandolin. Marty replied, "Yeah, me!"

Marty was on his way back up, performing music, until he felt he was ready to tackle Nashville again. It must have been a heck of a tackle.

Marty's newest release, Soul's Chapel, by Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, was released this week on August 30. He has another album, Badlands, Ballad of Native American Causes, coming out in October. The album was recorded at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where he and Connie were married in 1997. [Note: The album was recorded at Marty's home.] Another album, Live at the Ryman, a bluegrass endeavor, will be released next February. There's a TV special in the works with CMT and he has a string of books on his photography being published next year.

Connie Smith and Marty Stuart will be making an unusual appearance together this Friday, September 2 at the Country Tonite Theater on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge.

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