“There’s really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending.” – Dolly Parton
Connie Smith was born in Indiana, but she grew up in West Virginia, where she first began singing publicly. She later moved to Ohio, and though she was soon a housewife and mother, she still sang in her spare time. She performed on local television shows, and when she won a talent contest in 1963, she was discovered by Bill Anderson. He quickly arranged for her to be signed to RCA Records, and wrote a song especially for her called “Once a Day.”
When that record was released in the summer of 1964, she was an overnight success. The song spent an astonishing eight weeks at #1, and it still holds the record for the longest run at the top by a female artist. It launched her into stardom, and Smith became one of the most popular female acts of the decade. She scored three #1 albums, topping the charts with Connie Smith, Cute ‘N’ Country and Born to Sing. Another album released during the same time frame, Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, spent many weeks at No. 2.
While she never topped the singles chart again, she became a fixture on country radio for more than a decade, with hits like “Cincinnati, Ohio,” “Ain’t Had No Lovin'” and “Then and Only Then.” She also caught the attention of NARAS, who would nominate her for ten Grammys over the course of her illustrious career. In 1966, she joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry; she also made frequent appearances on The Lawrence Welk Show.
In fact, the hectic schedule of her career, which included a busy touring schedule, led her into a depression and by 1968 she was contemplating suicide. However, she soon turned to God, and her newfound Christianity gave her tremendous strength. While she had always recorded religious material, she began to emphasize it in her recordings and her stage shows.
In the early seventies, she left RCA for Columbia Records, with the main goal of recording more gospel records. She even turned her touring career into a traveling gospel road show. Her powerful voice was a perfect match for religious material, and she was well received in the gospel market. She earned Grammy nominations in the gospel categories and won the fan-voted Music City News Gospel Act of the Year award in 1979.
In the eighties, Smith recorded a pair of singles for Epic Records, but it wasn’t until the nineties that she began releasing albums again. In 1998, a year after marrying Marty Stuart, he produced her album Connie Smith. Not to be confused with her debut album of the same name, this record featured nine songs written by Smith herself. She also paired up in 2003 with fellow Barbara Fairchild and Sharon White for a Gospel album called Love Never Fails.
While Smith isn’t one of the most commercially successful female artists in country music history, she is one of the most celebrated and respected. In addition to the praise from Dolly Parton, George Jones named Smith his favorite female country singer in his 1995 autobiography. Fans of traditional country music largely consider Smith to be the most underrated female talents of her time, a vocal genius in the same league as Patsy Cline. Her music has been thoroughly reissued by the German label Bear Family Records, making almost all of her recordings available to those willing to seek them out.
- “Once a Day,” 1964
- “Ain’t Had No Lovin’,” 1966
- “The Hurtin’s All Over,” 1966
- “Cincinnati, Ohio,” 1967
- “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” 1970
- “Just One Time,” 1971
- Connie Smith, 1965
- Cute ‘N’ Country, 1965
- Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, 1966
- Born to Sing, 1966
Interesting quote by Dolly considering I havn’t even seen her on here yet.
I don’t think it would be giving anything away to say that she will be on here. I’d imagine with only 23 to go, it would be easy to guess who the bulk of them are.
I love Dolly Parton, but that quote has always annoyed me– I’m pretty sure Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, among other notable soul singers who were already well established when she said it, aren’t “just pretending.”
That said, it’s hard to overstate what a phenomenal singer Connie Smith is– easily one of the top 5 in the genre’s history. Unlike many of today’s “A-list” singers, Smith combined phenomenal power (seriously, she sings as though she’s trying to derail a train) with a real sense of phrasing. She has the kind of presence on record that’s increasingly rare in any genre today.
It’s very rare to find an act with both power and control, and Smith is one of the rare singers who has both.
Sometimes one must take what Dolly says with a grain of salt; after all, she is nothing if not opinionated (but she has a point in implying that Connie, Barbra, and Linda [the latter of whom is a good pal, and may yet end up on this list] are tremendous artists).
Back to Connie for a moment–I think that the huge success of “Once A Day” on the country singles charts may have resulted in a significant pop crossover hit as well. If so, it would have been quite a rarity by that time to have happened because of the U.S. pop singles charts’ domination by the Beatles and the rest of the British invasion.
Connie Smith is probably not as well known as some of your contemporaries, but she one great singer worthy of mention in their company.
I of course never said otherwise. Pretty much all the great female artists of the 1960s and 1970s, Connie included, have to be considered legends today.
In my humble opinion Connie Smith is the best female vocalist the genre ever produced. She short-circuited her own career or she might rate much higher than this, but she considered her family a higher priority than being a star. Over the course of time she has developed into a great songwriter and her 1998 album is full of great songs that could become hits if the current femme fatales were to record them.
Connie Smith is now 67 years old and she still has about 99% of the voice she had back in 1964 (which means she can still blow out all of the competition except for maybe Rhonda Vincent.
Oh – “Just One Time” went to #1 on Cashbox’s Country Chart .
I would add “Where Is My Castle” to the list of essential singles
By the way the Parton quote has always annoyed me , too. I would have regarded the preeminant females sings at the time Parton was quoted as Streisand, Smith, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan with everyone else at least a level below
I just got a Connie Smith cd, it was a re-issue of her first two albums, and hot damn that’s some good country music. She’s incredible.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Connie Smith, I’d suggest “Ain’t Had No Lovin'”. Not only does it have that golden “Ray Price shuffle” rolling beneath it along with those ’60s “countrypolitain” strings and background singers, but it boasts one of the most urgently sexual vocals country radio ever sent over the airwaves. Just listen to the lustful way she drags her voice over the word “lovin'” in the line “ain’t had no lovin’ since you been gone…” — you know she’s not singing about emotional love. Now THAT’S some blue-eyed country soul!
To give Connie Smith a rating of #24 on the list is an insult. She would have been the biggest star of all time if she was not classified as a “country” singer. Back then especially the public did not want to listen to a “country” singer. Connie’s voice and vocal ability outclassed all others. I think if she was classified as a “jazz” singer she would be known by all. Her voice up to about the year 2000 was so powerful and perfect that it surpassed all others.
Other female country singers relied on gimmicks for success. Tammy had the most husbands. Dolly had the biggest breasts, etc. Other singers danced around and even took off clothes. Connie just stood there and sang. Then she dropped out of show biz to take care of her brood of 5 kids. Her attempt to make a comeback after 1990 failed. Almost all singers today have no singing ability. If the public were allowed to hear Connie sing they would know the popular singers of today can not sing and that would destroy the current music industry.