Robin Smith passes

Robin Smith with one of his Heartland Banjos – photo by Dustin Ogdin

Robin Smith, noted Nashville banjo luthier and musician, has died following emergency heart surgery last week. He was 71 years of age.

Many banjo players have taken advantage of Rob’s skill over the years, both as a builder of new instruments, and as a repairman and restoration specialist. His shop in Hendersonville, TN under his company name, Heartland Banjo, was also responsible for the construction of Scott Vestal’s Stealth Banjo, and the line of Kel Kroydon banjos sold by the American Made Banjo Co.

Rob had initially gone in to the hospital to have a bladder tumor removed on February 24, but his doctor wanted to keep him overnight as he was concerned about seepage. During the night, Robin complained of chest and arm pain, and the doctors did a balloon angioplasty in the morning and found a complete blockage in one artery. They rushed him to Nashville for emergency bypass surgery, which was successfully completed, but the surgeon told Smith’s wife, Gloria, that he had suffered a massive heart attack and had severe damage to the left side of his heart.

Though it had seemed that the triple bypass surgery had been successful, doctors were unable to restart his heart, and Rob was kept alive with a heart/lung machine. Gloria said that he seemed to be doing better after a week, but last Thursday he took a sudden turn for the worse. She said that while he couldn’t communicate freely because of the ventilator tube, he had been acknowledging her presence with winks and nods. But at this point, he yanked out his trach tube and begged her to let him go.

So after consulting with family, they made the decision to disconnect, and Robin passed on March 13.

After 36 years of marriage, Gloria says that he is at peace, and so is she.

“We enjoyed our life together. Part of him is in me, and I can still feel him.

Ronnie Reno and Jim Britton were there with me. He went peacefully and we’re so glad to end his agony.”

Robin will be remembered not only as a fine banjo craftsman, but as a kindhearted, jovial person, slow to anger and always glad to see a friend. He leaves many of them behind, both in the Nashville area, and all over the country from the years he played bass on the road with The Reno Brothers.

Smith had grown up in Pennsylvania, where he also worked for some time with Gary Ferguson, and Paul Adkins & Borderline.

Gloria says that there was no funeral, and Robin was cremated according to his wishes. After the concerns about the coronavirus have passed, she will host a celebration of life, inviting friends and players to share their fondness for him through music.

R.I.P., Robin Smith.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.