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Retro Redux: Country Songbird Connie Smith

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When I write about the music of the past I try to balance my efforts among several different genres, including jazz, oldies, country music, and a few others. But it occurred to me that even within a particular genre I can be neglectful. Case in point — all my country music features lately seem to be about guys. It's time to even up things a little.

The story of Connie Smith is a good one. Born Constance June Meador, she was one of 14 kids, and endured a tough childhood that included an abusive father. But that was just one of the many obstacles she overcame to become one of the top country songbirds, with multiple Grammy wins and CMA awards. The best part is that she's still going strong after four decades of performing.

Connie was born in Indiana but grew up in West Virginia and Ohio. In spite of her turbulent adolescent years she was always interested in music, and continued her efforts even after reaching adulthood and getting married. By the early Sixties she was performing on radio in her home area around central Ohio, and lightning struck — sort of — when country music star Bill Anderson heard her.

With Anderson's help, she soon had an opportunity in the form of a RCA recording contract. She also found herself in the studio with Chet Atkins, cutting a song Anderson had written that he thought might be a good one for her. He was right — "Once A Day" hit the charts and rocketed up to number one. It also won three Grammys for Connie as well as for Anderson as its songwriter.

Connie had become a star. She spun out hit after hit over the next couple of decades, with songs like "Then and Only Then," "Ain't Had No Lovin'," "Cincinnati, Ohio," and one of my favorites, Gordon Lightfoot's "Ribbon Of Darkness." She also continued to win awards, tour extensively, and appear on TV and on film, but eventually it all began to wear on her. Slowing down her pace a little, she also began to incorporate more gospel sounds into her music. For a while she even toured as part of a gospel show with her then-husband, evangelist Marshall Haynes.

Although Connie has continued to tour — even internationally — through subsequent years, the record-buying public inevitably moved on to newer stars. But she has continued to be popular and has often appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and in Branson. She also married country star Marty Stuart a few years back and — not surprisingly — the twosome continues to this day to produce some outstanding musical performances and projects.

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