Arthur Smith

The National Fiddler Hall of Fame



Arthur Smith

YouTube (Link)

Arthur Smith (April 10, 1898 - February 28.1971)

Arthur Smith was a renowned fiddler from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. Born on April 10, 1898 he was raised on a farm near Bald Springs, Tennessee. He undoubtedly inherited his musical gene from his father who was a fiddler. Sadly his father died when Arthur was only 5 years old. At this time Arthur had already taken to the fiddle and it was not long before his musicianship progressed to where he was playing at local dances. In 1914 Arthur married a young lady named Nettie. He was 16 years old and she 15. They both enjoyed music. Arthur played the fiddle and Nettie played the guitar for him. At one time Nettie wanted to buy Arthur a fiddle. She sold chickens and bought one for six dollars and fifty cents from their neighbor Grady Stringer who was a musician and early influence of Arthurs. The couple had a family that grew to be large with thirteen children. Needing to support his growing family in 1921 he moved to Dickson, Tennessee and took a job as a lineman on the North Carolina and St. Louis railroad known as The Dixie Line. With this job he had to travel back and forth between the states. This gave Arthur the opportunity to spend his evenings fiddling and meeting up with musicians along the way. Arthur entered as many fiddle contests as he could and won most of them. He was known for playing Blackberry Blossom, Red Apple Rag, Fiddler’s Dream and Goofus just to name a few. Arthur played by ear. He took his fiddling serious. Some musicians telling him he looked stiff and to loosen up.

On December 23, 1927 Arthur made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry playing a thirty minute solo fiddle set with guitar accompaniment by his cousin Homer Smith. In the 1930”s Arthur formed a band calling them Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and the Dixieliners (the name coming from his job on the railroad The Dixie Line). The band members included brothers Kirt and Sam McGee and on piano his daughter Lavonne. Though Lavonne was still in high school she began touring with the Dixieliners receiving the five dollar pay at the Opry along side the greats. In 1935 Arthur made his first commercial recordings with another Opry act, the Delmore Brothers. Both Arthur and the Delmores wrote and sang best selling songs. Some of Arthur’s vocal hits were “There’s More Pretty Girls Than One”, “Pig in the Pen”, “Walking in My Sleep” and “Beautiful Brown Eyes”. The Tennessee Valley Boys were a young up and coming band with a new western swing style. They were looking for a dynamic known fiddler and Arthur fit the part. Later fiddlers Howdy Forrester and Georgia Slim Rutland joined the band. In 1940 Arthur moved to Decatur, Alabama forming a band called “The Band of Arthurs” consisting of his daughter Lavonne, a banjo player, guitar player and him on fiddle all with the names Arthur. On October 7, 1940 in Atlanta, Georgia Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and His Dixieliners recorded “Peacock Rag” and “Sugar Tree Stomp”. It so happened that Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys had a session at the same studio. Bill Monroe allowed some of his members to help out on Arthurs recording. Arthur stayed busy joining the Bailes Brothers in West Virginia and publishing two song books: Songs From the Hills of Tennessee and Arthur Smith’s Original Folio No.1. Arthur played with his son Ernest Smith on the radio program “Saddle Mountain Round-Up” in Dallas, Texas. His western swing fiddling led him to gigs with cowboy singer Rex Griffin and Jimmy Wakely. Soon he found himself in Hollywood where he appeared in a series of low budget western films playing in Jimmy Wakely’s band. One of the movies was Lonesome Trail where Arthur played and sang “The Orange Blossom Special” entertaining the viewers while holding that note. “The Orange Blossom Special” was one tune Arthur was known for popularizing.

In 1950 Arthur fell on hard times. Years of holding down two jobs led him to drinking. Returning to Tennessee he put down his fiddle professionally and began working as a carpenter. In 1957 Arthur was invited by Jimmy Wakely to join the famous country guitarist Merle Travis. Country music fans yearned for Arthur to make an album of his hit songs. At first he was shy but after the considerable persuasion of Mike Seeger he recorded his hits with his band, Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and the Dixieliners. He made his last public appearance at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Festival in 1969.

Arthur Smith spent his last months in Louisville, Kentucky and died there of cancer on February 28, 1971. On the Grand Ole Opry Roy Acuff announced his passing and dubbed him The King of Fiddlers. He was buried near McEwen, Tennessee.

Arthur Smith was inducted into The National Fiddler Hall of Fame in 2014.