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O. C. Smith
O. C. Smith, a Black singer and minister, was born on this date in 1936.
Born Ocie Lee Smith in Mansfield, Louisiana, he moved to Los Angeles at an early age with his mother, a music teacher. Attending Jefferson High School, Smith learned music from Samuel Brown, who instructed singer Ernie Andrews and saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Frank Morgan. Smith joined the Air Force after high school and sang in a special services band. After his discharge, he went to New York City and found work in small clubs in the Catskills, singing ballads, blues, and anything to pay the bills.
In early 1961, Smith auditioned successfully for Count Basie, replacing the legendary Joe Williams. Smith called Basie “an ideal leader.” After Basie, he worked the club and concert circuit across the country, toured the Far East for several months, and settled in Los Angeles. Columbia Records soon signed him to a contract and expanded his repertoire. In 1968, he attained his first commercial breakthrough record with “The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp,” which became a big hit in Britain. Then came “Little Green Apples,” winner of a Grammy as the song of the year in 1968. A year later, Smith had another big R&B single, “Daddy's Little Man,” in 1969, which hit No. 9 on the charts.
Smith ended his association with Columbia in 1974 but recorded off and on for various labels and continued working on the road. In 1980, Smith's life began to take a new direction after friends invited him to attend a Science of the Mind service at the Wilshire Ebel Theater.
Although Smith began studying for the ministry and graduated in January 1985, he wasn't ready to give up full-time entertaining. "I wanted the present to reveal the right time to me." Smith found that place in the ballroom of a building near Los Angeles International Airport that had burned down a couple of years earlier and was being reopened. In October 1985, with the Reverend O. C. Smith officiating, the City of Angels Church of Religious Science opened on Aviation Boulevard.
Rev. O. C. Smith died November 23, 2001, at his Ladera Heights home. Smith had officiated at a Thanksgiving service the day before his death.
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