A very good account of Mr. Fred Smith, one of our best informants.
Mary Celestia Parler
To accompany Reels 397 — 398.
Georgine Cawood for
Arkansas Folklore Fall, 1963
FOLK BALLADS of
When I decided to collect songs for my folklore project, I immediately thought of Mr. Fred Smith of Bentonville. Ever since I was a young girl, I have known Fred for his singing ability. I can recall sitting near him at church services and hearing him put everything he had into the old hymns; and at the old-time singing conventions, he always sang a special song or was part of a featured group of singers.
On October 1, 1963, I stopped by Mr. Smith's barber shop to ask him if he would tape some of his old folk ballads for me. He seemed pleased that I asked, and we made a date to tape the first songs the following week. On October 7, I went to the Smith home, and I was graciously welcomed by both Fred and his wife Ruth. I have known Ruth for as many years as I have known Fred, for before they were married, she worked in a dime store in Bentonville. On my first visit that evening, Fred sang some of his favorite songs for me, but he did not record all of them for some had already been taped for others' projects. He said he would like to record a variety of songs - sad, happy, ridiculous, etc. We went into the neat kitchen where Fred had his tape recorder set up, and then he taped three songs
for me. Since he was just recovering from a cold, he wouldn't record any more at that time, but he sang bits and parts of at least ten more from which I could choose for the next recording session.
My next visit to the Smith home was on the evening of October 10, 1963. Fred once again sang a variety of songs for me to select from, and then he recorded four more. This completed one side of the tape. I realized that I needed several tapes if I was to begin to get all of the songs I wanted, hut Fred said it was quite a strain on his voice and he preferred making only the one tape. Each time I visited I was determined to leave early, hut Ruth always had Cokes and homemade cookies, and Fred always had so much to talk about that I could never get away before ten o'clock. Fred is proud of his folk knowledge and is pleased with any recognition he gets. Before I left this evening, I took several pictures of Fred and Ruth, and I made a date to take some of Fred in his barber shop and of both of them in front of their attractive little home.
On Monday, October 14, I took more pictures, and the following evening, October 15, 1963, I went again to get more songs recorded. Fred had already taped part of side two for me, but he wanted my permission to end
the tape with an instrumental. He had some clatter bones
and had been practicing with them. As he told me the history of his learning to play the clatter bones, I made some notes about his life as a young man. Then with his arm around Ruth's shoulders, Fred filled me in with the rest of his exciting life:
He was born to Pete and Mary Leever Smith in 1888 on a farm in a beautiful valley near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The farm was part of a village community called Arkansaw in Pipin County on the Chippewa River. Pete Smith ran a sawmill in this northern Wisconsin valley, and Fred said he worked at the mill until he was eleven years old. Here he learned many old ballads from the lumberjacks and rivermen. When he was eleven years old he got a job at a brick kiln, and when he was twelve his father moved the family one hundred miles north into a thick pine forest. Fred worked here in his father's sawmill until he was twenty-one years old.
One winter he drove a yoke of oxen and dragged logs to the mill. During this time Fred was learning more songs, and he remembered them because he received special favors by entertaining the men in the camps at night. Since work took most of his
iiitime, Fred's formal education took longer than usual, but he finished the first eight grades in a country school.
In 1910, Pete Smith's health failed, and he was forced to move his family away from the extreme cold. He bought a ranch between Corpus Christi and King's Ranch in Texas. Fred helped his father farm and here he learned to speak some Spanish.
Fred Married Bessie Gorman of Corpus Christi in 1917. Bessie's father, Joe Gorman, was for years a Navajo Indian trader in New Mexico, and he taught Fred many old ballads that he learned while he was traveling. Joe Gorman played a guitar and sang, and several times he appeared in vaudeville shows.
Fred made his first stage appearance in 1914 at a high school literary in Calallem, Texas.
Pete Smith died in 1924. Fred, his wife, his mother, and his brother Otto moved to Centerton, Arkansas that same year. Fred was barber there until 1927 when he and Bessie moved to Bentonville. Bessie died in 1930. Mary Smith died in 1943 at age ninety. Otto died in 1961.
In 1955, Fred married Miss Ruth Keller of Bentonville, and they live at 614 Northwest Second Street. Ruth
enjoys Fred's ballad singing, and her encouragement
is a great asset. Fred continues to barber in Bentonville.
Fred's ballad singing is in demand by folklore enthusiasts in a wide area of the Ozarks. He has entertained on Radio Station KWTO, Springfield, Missouri with May Kennedy McCord; he has appeared at the University of Arkansas Folklore Society meetings; and he has been part of the entertainment
at the Ozark Folk Festivals in Eureka Springs.
A short story about Fred is given in Ray M. Lawless' book Folksingers and Folksongs in America, published in New York in 1960.
When Fred finished his story, he commented that he hoped and prayed that his voice would hold out until he had recorded all of the folk ballads that he knew. This seems quite a task, however, for he has hundreds written down and while singing one of these he is reminded of another that he has not even written down yet. He claims that his memory is had now, but he can still shut his eyes
and sing from memory for hours and hours.
Working on this project with Fred and Ruth has been
a real blessing for me. In this fast modern pace in which
most of us live, I had nearly forgotten what genuine old-
time hospitality and love of old things were like.
I am thankful for the opportunity which I have had to
better know Fred and Ruth Smith. I believe Fred will continue to sing his old ballads as long as he is physically able. And knowing Ruth, I am sure she will continue to encourage him with her faith and love.
Fred Smith in front of his Oriole Barber Shop Bentonville, Arkansas
Fred Smith inside his Oriole Barber Shop Bentonville, ArkansasFred and Ruth Smith in front of their home 614- Northwest Second Street Bentonville, Arkansas
Fred Smith Fred woos Ruth
recording in his kitchen with an old love balladTABLE OF CONTENTS
MY GRANDMOTHER'S ADVICE 1
ROLLY TRUDEM 2
THE HAT ME FATHER WORE 4
THE SHIP THAT NEVER RETURNED 5
I'LL DO THE WORK IN THE HOUSE 6
GO FORTH MY CHILD 8
ADAM AMD EVE 9
THE BLIND BOILER-MAKER 10
SAFE IN THE PROMISED LAND 11
THE MILLER'S WILL 13
THE TUNE THE OLD COW DIED ON l4
IF I WAS AS YOUNG AS I USED TO BE 15
IN THE SHADOW OF THE PINES 16
GOLDEN SLIPPERS (instrumental) 17
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.