Arthur Smith was born in Clinton, South Carolina on April 1, 1921. The family moved to Kershaw, South Carolina when Arthur was four. He is the son of a textile worker, and beginning at the age of 14, began working in the textile mills common to the region. After the work week he would travel to radio stations in Florence, Columbia, and Charleston where he would play music. He was noticed by a talent scout and signed to a contract with RCA Victor
at the age of 15.
His early musical experience came from his father, who was the leader of the town band in Kershaw, South Caroline. His first instrument was the trumpet, but he found that stringed instruments were where his true passion lay. His musical interests included playing the guitar, banjo, and fiddle, as well as musical composition.
Arthur Smith wrote the instrumental hit Guitar Boogie in 1945, which earned him the nickname Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith, which differentiated him from 1930's Grand Ole Opry performer Fiddlin' Arthur Smith. The song, released on October 23, 1948 was to sell almost 3 million copies, and is sometimes cited as the first rock and roll song. The song made it to Billboard's Top 25. Guitar Boogie would be covered many times, including a rock and roll version by Frank Virtue and His Virtuoso Trio, who renamed it the Guitar Boogie Shuffle. This version rose to the Top 5 spot. Frank Virtue credits Arthur Smith, whom he served with in the US Navy, as a musical influence in his career.
Smith, along with fellow banjo picker Don Reno, wrote another little tune named Feudin' Banjos in 1955. It was renamed Duelin' Banjos, and was featured in the 1973 film Deliverance. The song, which was used without credit or compensation, led to a lawsuit which finally gave Arthur Smith credit and back royalty for use of his handiwork. The song became BMI's Song of the Year in 1973, selling over 8 million copies in 6 months.
Another Smith tune was recorded by Willie Nelson, becoming Nelson's signature song. Red Headed Stranger was the title song of one of Willie Nelson's best selling albums. Smith also composed and performed the highly recognizable 12th Street Rag.
Arthur Smith first attracted notice while working in a Dixie-land style group named the Carolina Crackerjacks, alongside his brothers Ralph and Sonny. The group had limited success until they put away their horns and took up the fiddle and guitar. He also worked with a gospel group named the Crossroads Quartet.
Along the way in a varied career, Smith appeared on a live program on Charlotte, North Carolina radio station WBT, part of the station's popular Carolina Barndance. He was a sometime member of the WBT Briarhopper Band.
After his service in the Navy during World War II, Smith returned to Charlotte, NC where he, along with his brothers, his wife Dorothy, and vocalist Roy Lear, formed Arthur Smith and His Crackerjacks, which was part of the first TV program aired on the new TV station in town, WBT-TV. Carolina Calling, an early morning show, became very popular, running for a decade in the 50s and 60s. The Arthur Smith Show ran on WBT also, becoming the first syndicated country music program, airing from Delaware to Texas. The popular program aired from 1951 until 1982, showing in over 70 markets at its peak.
Starting in 1957, Smith owned a recording studio in Charlotte, one of the first in the area. He recorded artists which included James Brown, Flatt and Scruggs, Pat Boone, Ronnie Milsap, George Beverly Shea, and Johnny Cash. In its early days, Billy Graham's Hour of Decision broadcasts were taped at Smith's studio. With the advent of videotape technology in the 1970s, Smith began producing television shows as well as radio programs and audio recordings. As part of his legacy, Smith also produced a radio show entitled Top of the Morning, running for 29 consecutive years for a single sponsor, Bost Bread.
Arthur Smith in a way is the AC/DC of country music in that he was one of the first to both play really fast and really good. Smith is credited with being a bridge between the western swing music of the 40s and the rockabilly music of the 50s. In his career he has penned over 500 songs and has been a major influence on many artists. Along the way he has scored the soundtrack for a dozen major motion pictures. His songs include over 100 gospel compositions recorded by such artists as Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, The Statler Brothers, The Gatlin Brothers, Ricky Van Shelton, George Beverly Shea, and others.
Arthur Smith also is an avid fan of sportfishing, and created the Arthur Smith Sportfishing Series, part of ESPN's initial block of programming. He has worked in the cause of conservation and development of sportfishing, helping to fund artificial reefs, jetty construction, and estuary enhancement.
Arthur Smith has served on the boards of/volunteered his time and services to/ and received appointments to numerous civic and governmental organizations. The subjects vary from conservation to historic preservation, from medicine to education, and a myriad of other interests. He has received an impressive array of awards from trade groups, civic organizations, service organizations, and religious groups.
He and his wife Dorothy are parents to 3 children: Reggie, Connie, and Clay. They also have seven grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Arthur and his wife Dorothy are devout Christians who have embodied their faith with action throughout Arthur's long career. Early on he vowed to not have any 'smut' or vulgarity in his act, but instead to promote wholesomeness and Christianity. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has never wavered in that commitment. Arthur Smith is now retired, though he does still lend his name to worthy charitable causes from time to time. He attends church at Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC.
His business interests are managed by his son Clay Smith.
Arthur Smith was and still is an innovator. He inspires devotion in his fans, his sponsors, his associates and business partners. His legacy is one of an honest man doing what he loves to do, entertain people with good, wholesome entertainment. His influence is widespread, not just in country music but across other genres as well. Arthur Smith at the age of 86 has achieved that most elusive goal, earning the respect and love of generations of fans.