Tuesday, September 22, 2009

RIP John "Tennessee Smith" Smith

As a member of The Sunshine Boys quartet, John Smith did two live radio
shows a day on WAGA.

When John Smith left East Tennessee, he took with him a love for one of the region’s most cherished gifts.

In the late 1930s, he and his late brother moved from Oneida to Cincinnati to pursue a musical career. They had stops in Columbus and Charleston before Atlanta in early 1940.

Here, they joined The Sunshine Boys, a quartet that specialized in country and gospel music. The band performed live for Atlanta radio stations WSB and WAGA. The musicians also appeared at rallies around Atlanta to sell war bonds. The group picked and played its way to Hollywood and appeared in Western movies.

Ed Wallace of McDonough recalls those days fondly. He was a Georgia Tech student at the time and the band pianist from 1942 to 1949. The other original band members were Ace Richman (bass), A.L. “Smitty” Smith (guitar) and John Smith (fiddle). He was known as “Tennessee Smith.”

“John was probably the best fiddle player you’d ever hear in your life,” Mr. Wallace said. “He was offered jobs time and time again all over the country.”

John Orvia Smith, 91, of Griffin, died Wednesday at Brightmoor Assisted Living in Griffin from complications of kidney failure. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday in the chapel of Conner-Westbury Funeral Home in Griffin.

In 1945, The Sunshine Boys headed to Hollywood, where country bands were being featured in cowboy movies. They appeared in films with stars like Eddie Dean, Lash Larue and the Durango Kid. At one time, the band split its time between Hollywood and Atlanta, where they had radio gigs.

At one point, The Sunshine Boys did two live radio shows a day on WAGA. On one show, they were called The Sunshine Boys. On the other, they were known as The Light Crust Dough Boys.

“At 12:30, we went on the air as The Light Crust Dough Boys and did a 14-minute, 30-second show of Westerns,” Mr. Wallace said. “Then at 12:45, we’d do gospel.”

After 1949, Mr. Smith and his brother struck out on their own, known simply as The Smith Brothers. The duo retired in 1965. Though Mr. Smith enjoyed country music, he had a deeper love for gospel, said his son, Billy Smith of Milner.

Both genres, he said, epitomize America, regardless of whether you’re from East Tennessee or Atlanta.

“They are distinctly American,” his son said, “and I think people relate to that. I think that music speaks to the soul of the typical American. I was always proud of what my father was able to do with both.”

Two years ago, at the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame ceremony, Mr. Smith was invited on stage to play the fiddle. “He went up there and played like it was 50 years ago,” Mr. Wallace said.

Other survivors include a brother, Charles E. Smith of Somerset, Ky.; five grand-children and nine great-grandchildren.

SMITH, John Orvia
Born: 8/15/1918, Oneida, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Died: 9/16/2009, Griffin, Georgia, U.S.A.

John Smith's westerns - singer, musician:
Colorado Serenade - 1946 (musician)
Tumbleweed Trail - 1946 (singing cowhand)
Driftin' River - 1946 (singing ranchhand)
Stars Over Texas - 1946 (singing ranchhand)
Wild Country - 1947 (singing cowhand)
Range Beyond the Blue - 1947 (musician)
West to Glory - 1947 (singing ranchhand)
Smoky River Serenade - 1947 (Sunshine Boys)
Song of Idaho - 1948 (musician)
West of Sonora - 1948 (musician)
Quick on the Trigger - 1948 (western band member)
Challenge of the Range - 1949 (musician)

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