Carl Smith, June Carter's ex-husband, country star

By Terence McArdle
Washington Post / January 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Carl Smith, a singer and guitarist who became one of country music’s most popular and durable performers and who was the first husband of singer June Carter, died Jan. 16 at his home in Franklin, Tenn., of complications from a stroke. He was 82.

Dubbed “The Country Gentleman,’’ Mr. Smith developed a singing style that captured the raw twang of Hank Williams and Roy Acuff but smoothed their rough edges. The approach gave him many hit records, with a string of 21 consecutive Top 10 Billboard country songs from 1951 to 1955. He remained a consistent hit maker into the 1970s.

“He was ruggedly handsome and wore custom-tailored clothes,’’ said John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “Back then, when people wanted to see a star, they didn’t want to see someone in blue jeans. They wanted someone who looked like a star. And he was smart enough to pick really good, commercial songs.’’

Many of Mr. Smith’s songs reflected a swaggering ladies’ man image on such up-tempo numbers as “(When You Feel Like You’re in Love) Don’t Just Stand There,’’ “Go Boy Go,’’ and “You Are the One.’’ But he also had a penchant for slower, plaintive songs such as “I Overlooked an Orchid (While Looking for a Rose)’’ and “Are You Teasing Me.’’

Carl Smith was born in Maynardville, Tenn., near Knoxville. As a youngster, he listened to country music from the Grand Ole Opry as well as the local Knoxville stations and mowed neighbors’ lawns to pay for guitar lessons. He first performed as a teenager on Knoxville station WROL on a show sponsored by a local grocer. He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1947.

In 1950, Troy Martin, a representative of the Peer-Southern publishing company, heard a demonstration record of Mr. Smith and secured him an audition with WSM. That year, he made his first records for Columbia Records, an association that lasted 23 years.

Mr. Smith often performed with Carter, to whom he was married from 1952 to 1956. A daughter from their marriage, Rebecca Carlene Smith, is a successful country rock musician who performs as Carlene Carter.

June Carter later married entertainer Johnny Cash.

Mr. Smith’s second wife, the singer Goldie Hill, whom he married in 1957, also performed with him. She died in 2005.

In addition to Carlene Carter, Mr. Smith leaves two sons and a daughter.