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Sun, 10.12.1879

Chris Smith, Songwriter and Actor

Chris Smith

Chris Smith, a Black songwriter, was born on this date in 1879.

He was born in Charleston, S.C., and his first experience in show business was in a medicine show. He went to New York around the turn of the century with his childhood friend and lifelong vaudeville partner, Elmer Bowman. He and Bowman wrote many songs including I've Got De Blues" and their first big hit, "Good Morning Carrie," co-written with Cecil Mack and sung on stage by Bert Williams. Smith collaborated on many songs during this time. Some of the most popular were "He's a Cousin of Mine," "Down Among the Sugar Cane," and "You're in the Right Church but the Wrong Pew." The latter was a hit for Bert Williams in his musical Bandanna Land and was published by the first Black owned publishing company, Gotham-Attucks.

Smith wrote and also did some acting and appeared on vaudeville with his Bowman. In 1911 and 1912, he wrote some excellent syncopated instrumentals including the "Honky Tonk Monkey Rag." In 1914, he had his biggest hit, "Ballin The Jack," which was written with Jim Burris and started a dance craze that lasted the decade.

Smith wrote many songs over the next 10 years. He wrote two popular numbers in the early 1920s with Jimmy Durante and it is rumored that he and Durante performed together in vaudeville after Smith's partner Bowman died.  He was one of the most popular and prolific songsters of the time. Chris Smith died in New York City on October 4, 1949.

African Americans and South Carolina:
History, Politics and Culture
Dr. Phebe Davidson
University of South Carolina-Aiken

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