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Sammi Smith in 1970
|Jewel Faye Smith|
August 5, 1943|
Orange County, California, U.S.
February 12, 2005 (aged 61)|
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Genres||Country, outlaw country, country pop|
|Labels||Columbia, Mega, Elektra, Cyclone Records|
|Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter|
Sammi Smith (August 5, 1943 - February 12, 2005) was an American country music singer and songwriter. Born Jewel Faye Smith, she is best known for her 1971 country-pop crossover hit "Help Me Make It Through the Night", which was written by Kris Kristofferson. She became one of the few women in the outlaw country movement during the 1970s.
Sammi Smith was born in Orange County, California, in 1943 but spent her childhood in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado. She dropped out of school at the age of eleven and began to sing professionally in nightclubs. She was only fifteen when she married Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and Night Club Operator Bobby White. They had three children. She had her first divorce in 1966. She would eventually have two more marriages. In 1967 Johnny Cash's bass player Marshall Grant discovered her singing in the Someplace Else Night Club in downtown Oklahoma City. After Grant's discovery she moved to Nashville, Tennessee. When Johnny Cash learned of her talent, he helped her get signed with Columbia Records. Her first minor country hit was in 1968, titled "So Long, Charlie Brown, Don't Look for Me Around". The song showed Smith's potential as a country music powerhouse. In 1971 she married her second husband, Willie Nelson's guitarist Jody Payne. They had one child, singer/actor/musician Waylon Payne, whose godfather is country legend Waylon Jennings.
"Help Me Make It Through the Night" was Sammi Smith's career hit and the one that made her famous. She had been one of the rare women in the "outlaw country" movement sweeping country music in the 1970s. At this time, country was moving in two directions: "outlaw" and a more mainstream pop sound. However, "outlaw country" would be short-lived, with country taking on a distinctly pop cast by the end of the '70s. Smith would still remain with the "outlaw" sound throughout the 1970s.
In 1970, Smith signed with a new label Mega Records and her first hit for her new label was called "He's Everywhere", which made the top 25 on the country charts. Finally, in 1971, she struck gold with "Help Me Make It Through the Night". The song immediately became a No. 1 hit on the country charts and No. 8 on the Billboard U.S. pop chart. It sold over two million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in April 1971. At first, record companies were uncomfortable with the song's honest sexuality, which was new for country music, but DJs tested the song and the response from listeners was enormous. The song had been composed by Kris Kristofferson, only a songwriter at the time, who had recorded the only other version of the song. After Smith's hit, the song was later covered by Gladys Knight and the Pips and Elvis Presley; both versions achieved more modest chart success.
In 1972, Sammi Smith won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance that year, and Kristofferson took songwriting awards. The song made Smith and Kristofferson household names in the music business.
Critics David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren called "Help Me Make It Through the Night" "a watershed event in the history of Nashville and country music" and placed it at No. 1 in their book Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles. "The dynamic country soul of the recording -- thanks, for starters, to producer Jim Malloy and arranger Bill Walker -- revealed the influences of a generation of Nashville music makers who had grown up listening not only to country music but also to rock & roll, jazz, pop, R&B, and even classical music," they wrote. "A crossover smash, 'Help Me Make It Through the Night' signaled country's belated arrival in the rock and soul era."
After the success of her hit, Smith continued to have more success on the country charts. In 1973, Sammi moved to Dallas, Texas, with Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to become a country "outlaw". Smith would continue to have an ongoing friendship with Jennings and Nelson for the rest of her life.
Smith continued to have success with the Mega Records label until 1975. She reached the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot Country Singles Top 10 twice after the success of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" with "Then You Walk In" (1971) and Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" (1975), her last Top Ten hit. In 1972, "I've Got to Have You" was a successful country hit, and it even broke onto the pop charts at No. 77. Smith would continue to score Top 40 country hits like "The Rainbow in Daddy's Eyes" (1974) and "Long Black Veil" (1974).
In 1976, after Mega Records closed its doors, Smith signed with Elektra Records and scored with several hits, the biggest of these were "Sunday School to Broadway" (1976), "Loving Arms" (1977), "I Can't Stop Loving You" (1977), and "Days That End in Y" (1977).
In 1979, Smith made a successful comeback album on Cyclone Records called Girl Hero. The song "What a Lie" from that album became a Top 20 country hit for Smith, peaking at No. 16. She also recorded for Sound Factory Records during the early '80s and scored her last Top 20 in 1981 with "Cheatin's a Two-Way Street." Her last charting single came in 1986 with "Love Me All Over," which peaked at No. 80 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart in 1986.
After 1979, little was heard from Sammi Smith. She had, however, moved to Arizona and became involved in Native American causes, working for Apaches. She also started her own band called Apache Spirit, which was made up of Native Americans. In the mid-1980s she married her final husband Johnny Johnson and together they ran a Cattle Ranch in Bristow, Oklahoma. She did appearances on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. She also toured Japan. She would often bring her son Waylon Payne to guest star at the Opry. She also had a line of pottery, bath salts, and hand painted ceramic tiles for the bathroom.
In 1995 a compilation album was released called The Best of Sammi Smith, which consisted of her big hit and many other various countrypolitan songs. She had a total of 18 LPs during her career.
On February 12, 2005, at the age of 61, Sammi Smith died at her home in Oklahoma City of emphysema. Her remains were buried in Guymon, Oklahoma, which she claimed was her home town (in a Hee Haw episode that aired Jan 1, 1973).
To mark Sammi Smith's long career, a tribute album was released in her honor on September 26, 2006, titled Help Me Make It Through the Night: The Memorial Album. It featured all of her biggest hits from the 1970s.
Her first husband was Hank Thompson's Brazos Valley steel guitarist Bob White. They had 3 children. Zenithapollostar born June 9, 1962, Robert Floyd White born November 26, 1963 and Snow Jewel White born December 9[year needed]. Sammi and Bob soon divorced after their 3rd child. Sammi later had a third son with Willie Nelson's guitarist, Jody Payne. Waylon Malloy Payne was born April 5, 1972. Later she adopted two Apache sons, Albert and Alfred. Her grandchildren include Robert Floyd White III, Amanda Gail White, Katrina Jewel White, John Daniel McBride, and Shawn Showalter, Kristen Cutbirth and Jessica Shainberh.