On This Day #63 – Emma Smith, Back To The Basics

On this day …. 

On August 7, 1987 Emma Smith recorded tracks for her Back To The Basics LP (OHS 90206) at John Morris’s Old Homestead studio, Brighton, Michigan. It was her fourth album for the label. 

An excellent songwriter steeped in the classic mountain style of eastern Kentucky, Smith is credited with penning eight and arranging three, while Morris contributed one of the 12 songs on the album. 

As can be ascertained from listening to Back To The Basics her songs convey a simple love of family, folklore, God and country …… 

Track listing – 

Daddy Was A Farmer / Back To The Basics / Where Was I When Mama Needed Me / Just Over The Stars / Lily Of The Valley / Grandma’s Patchwork Quilt / The American Way / Be It Ever So Humble (instr.) / Memories Keep Walking / Mama Sings Again For Me / Dear God Have I Been Bad / Angel Mother.

The personnel involved were … 

Emma Smith (lead and harmony vocals, guitar); Dana Cupp Jr. (dobro, banjo, lead guitar, mandolin); Charlie Flannery (bass vocals, fiddle); Mel Mattish (bass); Mike Lilly (tenor and baritone vocals, banjo); Wendy Miller (tenor and baritone vocals, mandolin)

Emma (Lee Maggard) Smith was born in Hindman, Kentucky, on February 25, 1945, and grew up listening to the old ballads that her family members sang and listening to the likes of Bill Monroe and Hank Williams on the radio. She began playing guitar as a youth, performing Gospel material, primarily, singing in a manner that echoed the styles of Molly O’Day and a young Loretta Lynn; married in her late teens. 

She made early appearances on a local radio station, WKCB in Hindman, and on TV in nearby Hazard.

Smith made her recording debut in 1972 with an all-Gospel set Angel Mother; named after a song that Smith wrote following her mother’s death. It became a local hit and she became a popular performer in area clubs and on television shows, such as UHF-TV’s Saturday Night Jamboree. 

In 1981 she moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, and the following year she recorded her first album for Old Homestead Records – Hazard (OHS-90157) – and followed that with a Gospel recording, Ship From King’s Harbor Shore.  

Her 1984 release, We Are One, features Larry Sparks, contributing harmony vocals, and includes Don’t Neglect the Rose, which became one of Sparks’ biggest hits. This was originally released as an 8-track collection on Sparks’ Lesco label. Another LP, Don’t Let Me Cross Over, from the same year has Smith sharing credit with Dave Evans. 

Smith continued her association with Old Homestead and following Back To The Basics released six more albums (from 1989 through to 2003) one of which, The Mighty Captain, she did with Teddi Caldwell, a singer / songwriter from Flatwoods, Kentucky. Smith’s last release was That Little White Church. 

From 1984 onwards she played on the festival circuit frequently – appearing with musicians that included Evans; Kenny Baker and Josh Graves; and Caldwell – along with some Gospel shows.

Smith has been honored by SPBGMA with personal awards as Songwriter of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year (in the traditional category) as well as for fronting the Gospel Band of the Year. 

I understand that she lives in Florida currently. Sadly, she is suffering from dementia. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.