Hobart Smith (1897–1965)

Updated: March 01, 2011

Traditional singer, banjo player, fiddler, guitarist, and pianist.

Born May 10, 1897, Hobart Smith, the son of King and Louvine Smith from Saltville, Smyth County, Virginia, was a skilled banjo, fiddle, guitar, and piano player, as well as a seventh-generation ballad singer. In the 1930s, Smith and his sister, the influential traditional singer Texas Gladden (1895– 1967), performed at many festivals (including the White Top Festival) and at the White House. During the 1940s, the sib- lings made recordings for folklorist and collector Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress as well as for Folkways Records.

Smith first learned music from his mother and father, who were both banjo players. By age seven, he had picked up the traditional “rapping” style on the banjo from his father; soon after, he learned from neighbor John Greer to “double-note” by dropping his thumb—a technique he displayed especially on “The Cuckoo Bird” and “Banging Breakdown.” At the age of fourteen, Smith bought a guitar, having been moved by the music of black men working on nearby railroads. Smith also took up the fiddle, an instrument played by both of his grandfathers before he was born; Smith’s fiddle style was influenced by the playing of once enslaved Jim Spencer, a black musician who performed old tunes at dances in white homes. Smith learned a large repertoire of fiddle and banjo tunes at these dances.

Making a living as a farmer, wagoner, and butcher, Smith played music all his life. He formed a band with Clarence “Tom” Ashley and became a leading musician in the urban folk revival of the early 1960s. Smith died January 11, 1965.

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MLA Style

"Hobart Smith," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 21 Oct 2018 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=191>

APA Style

"Hobart Smith." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved October 21, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=191