Bennie Smith, 72, Legend of the Blues Guitar
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Bennie Smith, a guitarist and blues legend in St. Louis, died Sunday following a heart attack. He was 72.
Smith was not a huge recording act. But he contributed to countless sessions and played with Aretha Franklin, Little Milton, the Drifters, Albert King, and Rufus Thomas.
Smith was born in St. Louis, the seventh of 14 children, and started out playing the ukulele. Blind guitarist Ace Wallace helped him develop his technique. He played with many up-and-coming stars, such as Chuck Berry and Ike and Tina Turner.
Even on the day Smith died, the gig went on.
Smith was set to perform at a cocktail lounge frequently by local unersity club.The performance went on without Smith. After a set, harmonica player Tom “Papa” Ray told the crowd that Smith had died earlier that evening.
He said Smith, lying in bed Saturday after a heart attack, wanted the show to go on without him.
“I was joking that Bennie didn’t want to get a reputation as a no-show,” Mr. Ray told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Tuesday’s edition.
Smith played the blues, and he lived them, too. He had a heart attack in 2004, the same year his guitars and amps were stolen in a burglary.
Despite being diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year, Smith kept active. His “The Bennie Smith All Star Session” live CD was released two weeks ago, and he performed at the Big Muddy Blues Festival in St. Louis on Sept. 2, with Mayor Francis Slay proclaiming it Bennie Smith Day. Later that evening, he played at BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups. It was his last performance.