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Guitarist Velma Smith Dead at 87

Steve Wariner Velma Smith
Royce DeGrie, Getty Images

Country music has lost one of its pioneers. Guitarist Velma Smith passed away on July 31 in Madison, Tenn.

Smith began performing with her sister Mildred on radio station WHOP in Hopkinsville, Ky., when she was only 12 years old. Bill Monroe heard the siblings, and suggested they audition at the Grand Ole Opry. While Smith’s sister ultimately decided to leave the music business to raise a family, Smith chose to continue. She played with Ernest Tubb and Carl Smith, and also toured with Roy Acuff, where she met and married fiddle player James ‘Hal’ Smith, who passed away in 2008.

The couple came off the road in the ’50s, but Smith’s career was just beginning. In an industry made up entirely of men, she earned work as a recording session guitarist, becoming the first female recording session musician in Nashville.

Smith’s many credits include Hank Locklin’s 1960 hit, ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling,’ and Skeeter Davis’ 1962 single, ‘The End of the World.’ She also played on the records of many of country music’s biggest hitmakers, including Eddy Arnold, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Porter Wagoner and Roy Orbison.

Smith was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in January, along with Peter Frampton, Barbara Mandrell and Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble. Steve Wariner was on hand to do the honors.

Funeral services will be held at 11AM on Saturday, Aug. 2 at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tenn.

The Boot extends our deepest condolences to Smith’s family, friends and colleagues.

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