Family: Arthur Smith's legacy more than music

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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KERSHAW, S.C. - Ruth and Odell Lucas were saddened to get word that their brother-in-law Arthur Smith had died Thursday in Charlotte.

"It just made me sick to hear," Odell Lucas said from his home in Kershaw. 

He and his wife could spend hours telling stories of family gatherings, vacations and events they remember with Smith and his wife Dot, Ruth’s sister.

"We would love going to see them at Thanksgiving," Ruth Lucas said. "The whole family would be there."

Sometimes, Smith would take out his guitar and play for them.  They would get a private audience to hear what the rest of the world had heard -- an extremely talented, yet humble man, who became an international celebrity.

"He was so good with that guitar," Ruth Lucas said.

Smith didn't live for the spotlight.  But for decades, he was directly in its glow, performing with the likes of Andy Griffith, Bob Hope, and countless others. 
 
Many are remembering Smith, who died Thursday at his home. He had just turned 93 on April 1.

Close friend and former news anchor Doug Mayes called Smith a great talent.

"He was a good person. He was an excellent musician. He knew how to run a business," Mayes said.

He also knew how to entertain live audiences both on TV and radio.  "The Arthur Smith Show" ran for years in Charlotte.  At its heart was wholesome family entertainment.  He recorded one of his first songs in a hotel in downtown Rock Hill.  A plaque there bears his name.

Smith wrote “Guitar Boogie,” which is a staple for aspiring pickers to learn, even today.

Most remember Smith for  “Dueling Banjos.”  The song appeared in the 1972 movie '”Deliverance” without giving Smith credit. He won money in a lawsuit against the movie studio.  Lucas thought it was somewhere around $200,000.

Smith influenced many musicians to come along after him, including some of the biggest guitarists in the business. Yet he never turned from his small-town roots as the son of a South Carolina mill worker from Kershaw.

“He meant a lot to us and we're proud of him," Ruth Lucas said.  'We are a close-knit family and we've always been real close."

She and her husband both volunteered in Smith's famous fishing tournaments.  Celebrities and sports figures often took part, and the events became huge draws.  In recent years, the Lucases said Smith was in declining health, but they would visit Charlotte to see him and Dot whenever they could.

The Lucases remember a man who put faith in God, and a love for his family, before fame.

"He was a good Christian man, and he knew his Bible. So did his wife.  You could ask them anything and they could answer you," she said.

 Though Smith's unique and original guitar sound has been silenced, his influence plays on.

As of Friday afternoon, Smith's funeral arrangements had not yet been announced.