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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: A music dynasty

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

According to my dictionary, a dynasty is a sequence of rulers from the same family.  We have one here in our little town. The Smith family has "ruled" in the field of music for generations.

Their dynasty goes back to pioneers, John and Anna Walsh, who came here in 1879.  I know nothing of their musical abilities, but I do know they  were the parents of five daughters and two sons.  The younger son, James, married Catherine O'Brien and they had two daughters, one of which, Marie, married Stanley Smith.  They were blessed with two children, Audrey and Jim.  Marie, herself an accomplished musician, lovingly nurtured her children's talents.  "The Smith Kiddies" performed  throughout the Midwest.  The highlight of those years was an extended performance with the Ben Bernie Orchestra at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.

        Graduating from high school in 1943, the midst of WW II, Jim was inducted into the Army Air corps.  Continuing his musical endeavors, he played with the 585th Army Air Corps Band, for the duration.  Upon his discharge, he continued with area dance bands, conducting his own for over 20 years.  Now, even though he and his wife, Betty (Lange) are residents of Heartland Care Center, he still frequently blows a mean sax.

Their son, Steve, carries on the tradition.  I recall his amazing drum performance, as a kindergartner, at a Christmas program for a club to which I belonged. So he's been at it for a while. His instrument now is the piano.  He majored in music at Iowa State and taught for a time before returning to join his father in the Western Cherokee Mutual Insurance Association of which Steve is now secretary-manager. 

Still, I think it's safe to say that music is his first love.  He and wife, Linda, form their own combo, "Gentle Persuasion," to which most everyone around has danced, or at least tapped their toes.  Steve has all sorts of other musical involvements, as well.

        Historically, dynasties often ran out as generations passed, but that's not so with the Smiths.  Kathy, Brad, and Craig Cave, kids of Steve's sister, Patti (and  husband, Gene) were all outstanding high school instrumentalists. 

And Steve's two are reaching new heights.  Jennifer majored in music at Luther College and became involved with the State Fair Singers.  Jointly sponsored by Luther and the Iowa State Fair, at that time, they toured Iowa each summer.  After her years of participation, she returned to become a staff member with the group.  This was where she gained a taste for her real interest - music business. 

After her marriage to fellow Luther student, Pete Hoesing, a voice performance major, the two of them went to graduate school at Florida State in Tallahassee.  There Jen earned her

MA in music business and she is now the manager of the Tallahassee Boys' Choir, while her husband is continuing work on his Ph D in ethnomusicology, a specialized branch of music history.     

          Finally there is Chris, percussionist extraordinaire, who won all available honors in

high school and then went on to one of the country's premier jazz programs at Northern


After his graduation and marriage to Nina Bender, they moved  to New York

where he got his MFA at the Manhattan School of Music.  Remaining in New York, he

now works for a music outreach program, sponsored by the Children's Aid Society. This

involves teaching music to small children in centers throughout the city.  He also plays a

great deal professionally. Knowing Chris, I would say the possibilities are endless.

           The Smith dynasty is, indeed, going strong, and we are all proud to have it so firmly

rooted right here in Cherokee County.