"Smiling" Jack Smith©2006JCMarion
Jack Smith was a vocalist and later, an accomplished actor. He should not be confused with vocalist “Whispering Jack” Smith who was prominent in the twenties and thirties. He was born in November of 1918 on Bainbridge Island in the Seattle, Washington area where his father a graduate of the Naval Academy was stationed. At the age of five he lived in Hawaii for a while and then on to California. He was a student at Hollywood High School and a member of the Glee Club when two of his friends got him to join together and form a vocal trio. With help from a friend’s relative they soon got an audition at the Cocoanut Grove night club to become a replacement for the Rhythm Boys (featuring Bing Crosby). The young newcomers known as The Three Ambassadors (named for the hotel that contained the Cocoanut Grove) showed up for the audition and got the job. The trio sang with the band of Gus Arnheim, and when his pianist Jimmie Grier left to form his own band, the trio went with him.
The Three Ambassadors now did some backing work for musical films and went to San Francisco and appeared with the band of Anson (“Dancin’ With Anson”) Weeks. Later jobs with Phil Harris and many spots on network radio followed. The trio broke up in 1939 and Jack went out as a solo performer. Many other radio spots followed such as Glamor Manor with Kenny Baker and Cliff Arquette, The Kate Smith Show, and The Prudential Hour. By now introduced as “the man with the smile in his voice”, this soon turned into the nickname “Smilin’ Jack Smith. In 1943 he got his own radio program on the CBS network. In 1945 he began a six year run with that network with his own night time program for Proctor & Gamble. The show featured the music of Frank DeVol’s band and vocals by Margaret Whiting and Dinah Shore. After the end of the war, Smith was signed as a solo vocalist to Capitol Records and one of his first releases was “Why Did I Have To Fall In Love With You” recorded with The Sportsmen (from the Jack Benny radio program) on # 312. With that label he had his first hit record in 1947. It was called “Jack Jack Jack” on # 403 (with “Oh My Achin’ Heart” on the flip side). Later in 1947 he recorded “Civilization” on Capitol # 465 from the stage show “Angels In The Wings” which was a top seller for Louis Prima. Smith’s version did very well in its own right selling across the country and breaking into the top ten charts.
In 1948 Smith followed with another tune from the same show called “Big Brass Band From Brazil” (# 15029) which charted briefly as did “Shaunty O’Shea” (from the show “Look Ma I’m Dancing”) on # 484. On these and all subsequent recordings, Smith was accompanied by the Clark Sisters on backing vocals. A song from the film “On An Island With You” called “Taking Miss Mary To The Ball” on # 15073 was also a short lived hit. The year was a busy one for Jack Smith on records as he then had a solid seller with the standard “Baby Face” on # 15078 that was a top twelve record on the national charts. Next up was a cover of Emile Cota’s top seller “Tea Leaves” on # 15102 which did well for Smith, as did his next charted record “You Call Everyone Darling” on # 15156 (“Cuckoo Waltz” on the other side) another cover of a hit ( by Al Trace). Smith had one last good seller during the year, and again it was a cover version of a hit – the song “Cuanto Le Gusta” from the film “A Date With Judy” which was a top seller for Carmen Miranda & The Andrews Sisters. The Smith version (with the interesting flip side – “Cornbelt Symphony”)was good enough to get into the top fifteen in the country.
In 1949 Jack Smith appeared in the movie musical “Make Believe Ballroom” and also produced his last top selling records for Capitol. The first was a song from the Disney film “So Dear To My Heart” called “Lavender Blue” on # 15225 (the flip side is “Matador”) with the Earl Sheldon Orchestra. A moderate seller that got into the top twenty briefly, Smith followed it with his biggest seller he ever had, his version of the big song of 1949 “Cruising Down The River” with The Clark Sisters and Frank DeVol’s Orchestra on # 15372. Competing versions by Blue Barron and Russ Morgan made the number one position, but Jack Smith’s take was good enough to hit number three and last for four months on the best seller charts. The last charted record for Smith was “Sunflower” recorded with The Crew Chiefs on # 15394 which topped out at number thirteen.
In 1951 Jack Smith changed directions again, this time when he landed a feature role in the picture “On Moonlight Bay” with Doris Day. He continued on radio until 1952 when television beckoned and he was signed to host game shows such as “Welcome Travelers”. This led to a spot hosting the show “You Asked For It” replacing the original host Art Baker. Smith was connected with the show in its many revisions and syndication for thirty years ! He left Capitol and recorded for a number of other labels including Coral with whom he covered Les Paul & Mary Ford’s “Vaya Con Dios”. He also hosted a syndicated TV show called “The American West” for five years in the nineteen sixties.
Jack Smith today is retired and still remains a pleasant memory for many of the fans who remember the nineteen forties and the man with “a smile in his voice”.
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