2008 Edition: #24 (+1)
“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.
Smith’s renaissance as a recording artist reached a new peak with her 2011 album, Long Line of Heartaches, released to critical acclaim on Sugar Hill Records. Smith co-wrote many of the songs on the set, which was as purely traditional as anything she’d ever done. Fittingly, the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted her into their hallowed ranks the following year.
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
- Then and Only Then, 1965
- Ain’t Had No Lovin’, 1966
- The Hurtin’s All Over, 1966
- Cincinnati, Ohio, 1967
- I Never Once Stopped Loving You, 1970
- Where is My Castle, 1971
- Just One Time, 1971
- Just For What I Am, 1972
- If it Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave it Alone), 1972
- Connie Smith, 1965
- Cute ‘N’ Country, 1965
- Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, 1966
- Born to Sing, 1966
- Connie’s Country, 1969
- Connie Smith, 1998
- Long Line of Heartaches, 2011
- Country Music Hall of Fame, 2012
Next: #22. Wanda Jackson
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