January 22, 2010 / 1:17 AM / 9 years ago

Honky-tonk star Carl Smith dies at 82

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Honky-tonk stylist and Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith, the father of Carlene Carter, died at his home near Nashville on Saturday of undisclosed causes. He was 82.

Smith was widely regarded as one of the most important and successful country music hitmakers of the postwar era, and played a large role in keeping country music solvent in the wake of the rock and roll invasion.

He first appeared on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 1951 with “Let’s Live a Little.” His career spawned 31 top-10 hits during the 1950’s, including such No. 1 songs as “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way,” “Loose Talk” and “Hey, Joe!”

Born March 15, 1927, in the eastern Tennessee town of Maynardville (also the birthplace of country icon Roy Acuff), Smith began his performing career in 1944 at station WROL Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the military during World War II, and performed in bands in Asheville, N.C. and Augusta, Ga., working alongside other notable artists such as Molly O’Day and Archie Campbell.

Smith sang on song demos that ended up on the desk of Peer-Southern executive Troy Martin, who in turn took them to WSM Nashville executive Jack Stapp and Columbia producer Don Law. Smith was signed to the label and hired to perform an early morning show on WSM, and first appeared on the station’s Grand Ole Opry as the guest of Hank Williams in 1950. He remained on Columbia through 1973, and later recorded for Hickory. He was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry through 1956.

Handsome and talented, Smith was also among the first generation of young stars to bring country music to television. He appeared on Kate Smith’s “Main Street Music Hall,” and syndicated shows such as “Stars Of Country Music.”

His four-year marriage to June Carter ended in 1956, a year after the birth of their daughter, country singer Carlene Carter. Smith married singer Goldie Hill in 1957, and she died of cancer in 2005. Smith and Hill had three children, Lorri Lynn, Carl Jr. and Larry Dean.

Smith retired from recording and touring in the mid 1970’s, and spent the reminder of his years raising championship cutting horses on his Franklin, Tenn., ranch. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. A memorial service was held Tuesday in suburban Nashville.

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