After graduating from Tennessee State University he attended graduate school at the University of Michigan. While studying at the University of Michigan, he played with visiting musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thad Jones and Billy Mitchell, before going on to play with Sonny Stitt, Count Basie and Al McKibbon, Cannonball Adderley, Percy Heath, Philly Joe Jones, Lou Donaldson, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Zoot Sims. Smith decided to forego being a full-time musician to take a job a director of Atlanta's Booker T. Washington High School. There he recorded two albums for Blue Note.
The first, Here Comes Louis Smith, originally recorded for the Boston-based Transition Records, featured Cannonball Adderley (then under contract to Mercury) playing under the pseudonym "Buckshot La Funke",Tommy Flanagan, Duke Jordan, Art Taylor and Doug Watkins. He also replaced Donald Byrd for Horace Silver's Live at the Newport 1958 set. His playing on the set was one of his best efforts and was described by one critic as "monstrous". He was a prolific composer and successful band director leaving Booker T. Washington to become director of the Jazz Ensemble at the University of Michigan and a teacher in Ann Arbor's public school system. He later recorded for the SteepleChase label.
Smith suffered a stroke in 2006, and was seen occasionally enjoying live jazz in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, but did not return to performing.
His cousin Booker Little was also a trumpeter.
Smith died on August 20, 2016, at age 85.
With Kenny Burrell
With Horace Silver
With Booker Little and Young Men From Memphis