EFFIE SMITH (By Dave Penny)

Born Effie Mae Bly, 10 April 1914, Pittsburgh County, Oklahoma
Died 11 February 1977 , Los Angeles, California

Part of the ground-zero explosion of black entertainment that occurred on the West Coast of America in the early 1940s, leading to a mushrooming of independent record labels and the birth of the R&B record industry, California was notable as the starting place for the recording careers of a host of strong, talented women performers, among whom was Effie Smith, a singer and comedienne whose show business career stretched from the early 1930s until the early 1970s.

Born Effie Bly, in Oklahoma in 1914, little is known of her early biography; although she obviously married someone called Smith at a very young age in the early 1930s, and she has been reported as working as a vocalist with The Three Shades of Rhythm and Lionel Hampton's Orchestra in the same decade. The marriage to "Smith" soon foundered and she married songwriter John L Criner (1914-1992), who, himself originally a comedian, had starred in the 1939 Spencer Williams comedy thriller Midnight Shadow before forming his own Sunset Boulevard-based Royal Record Co., sporting the G&G and Gem labels, in the mid 1940s. During WWII Effie Smith had been featured on several AFRS "Jubilee" radio transcriptions and, after touring with Benny Carter's Orchestra in early 1945, her own solo recording career began with those same G&G and Gem labels, with small bands organised by Johnny Otis. Criner, too, recorded a couple of releases on his labels, one side of which Sugar Mama Blues, was a regional hit and was licensed by Miltone Records for re-release backed with Effie's Wee Baby Brother Blues.

Effie Smith went on to record for Aladdin, with Buddy Harper's band, Miltone again, with Roy Milton's group, an unissued session for Modern, and then Decca with Ike Carpenter's Orchestra. A one-off release in 1954 teamed Effie and John on Mambo Blues, while the advent of rock 'n' roll persuaded her to make several records with a vocal group called The Squires for Vita Records (Smith and Criner can effectively take the credit for discovering Don and Dewey, who sang with The Squires and were used on a couple of 45s backing Effie and John in 1956 on their own Shade and Spot labels, before Don and Dewey went to Specialty Records). Effie's son, Fred Sledge Smith, born in 1933, went on to become an important R&B/soul producer and songwriter in Los Angeles, particularly with The Olympics of Western Movies fame.a group managed by his step-father, John Criner!

In spite of her long career in the entertainment industry and her three-decade recording career, Effie Smith herself did not get the merest whiff of Billboard R&B chart action until the 1960s, when two of her own, self-produced comedy records made the charts: the two-part Dial That Telephone - a remake of her 1953 Aladdin release - was issued on another Criner/Smith label, Duo Disc (#36 in 1965) and - an answer to Jeannie C Riley's huge cross-over country hit - Harper Valley PTA Gossip was released on Eee Cee (Effie Criner?) (#43 in 1968). During the late 1960s and early 1970s she was employed by Stax Records to handle promotion work, behind the scenes, until her premature death in 1977 in Los Angeles, from cancer.

Recommended listening:

Effie Smith 1945- 53 (Classics 5116)

This important CD is, unbelievably, the first reissue of Effie Smith's classic material in ANY format, featuring her earliest work for G&G/Gem, Aladdin, Miltone, Decca and Dynamic, including her first stab at her own song Dial That Telephone, which proved a hit a decade later, and her impressive debut Effie's Blues, which she reworked in 1959, like Dial That Telephone, for her own Spot Records.

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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