Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rev. Utah Smith's grave and recent finds

Rev. Utah Smith's grave at Carver Memorial Cemetery (Shreveport, Louisiana), June 5, 2016

I first heard the recordings of Shreveport-born guitar evangelist Rev. Utah Smith about ten years ago. Shortly thereafter, I discovered a few local newspaper articles about him and happened to begin corresponding with two music historians working to publish Smith’s biography. They informed me that he was buried in a Shreveport cemetery and asked if I could photograph the gravesite. Here’s a story of the experience plus a few Utah Smith related items that I’ve run across since the book’s publication in 2008.

If you’re new to Utah Smith, I recommend the following:

The way I remember it, around 2005, I noticed that WFMU disc jockey Kevin Nutt played a song by the Ever Ready Gospel Singers on his radio show, “Sinner’s Crossroads.” I emailed Nutt to compliment him on the Shreveport selection and introduce myself. The introduction turned out to be good timing. Nutt was slated to publish a book/compact disc on Utah Smith written by Lynn Abbott. He told me about the project and asked if I could photograph Smith’s grave in south Shreveport. I agreed.

About a year earlier, Andrew Brown introduced me to the recordings of Utah Smith and pointed out that he was born in Shreveport. Around the same time, I discovered a few 1940s-era newspaper articles about Smith published in a local newspaper, The Shreveport Sun. The request for me to visit the grave was the first time I heard that Smith was actually buried here.

I flipped open the phone book, located the number, and dialed. A woman answered “Carver Memorial Cemetery,” and I asked for the burial location of Utah Smith, who passed away in 1965. Having checked their files, she returned to the phone – “Section A, Lot 70, Grave 5.”

The next day, I visited the cemetery with a camera. After spending ten minutes hopelessly wandering the tombstones, I noticed a worker in the distance. Perhaps he could help. I drove to that end of the cemetery, parked next to a fresh pile of dirt, and explained my fruitless search. “That’s near the front entrance. Just meet me there in five minutes, and I’ll show you.” Back at the entrance, I walked behind the employee as he counted off the rows. “How can you tell where anything is?” I asked. “We have numbered metal markers in the ground, see...” He used his foot to kick aside a layer of dirt, leaves, and pine straw. Underneath lay a small piece of metal with etched numbers. After a short walk, the cemetery worker stopped and pointed to the ground. “Well, here it is.” That was my introduction to the unmarked grave of Rev. Utah Smith. I snapped a photo and sent it to Nutt. It appears at the end of the book.

Since that initial visit, I’ve wondered why Utah Smith’s grave didn’t have a headstone. The plot sits alongside many other graves with tombstones. Perhaps in 1965 there was a temporary marker that didn’t stand the test of time. I also wondered if the location was incorrect. About two years ago, I repeated the process from phone call to employee pointing at the ground. Once again, it ended with me staring at the same wide, grassy spot sandwiched between other tombstones. Maybe one day Utah Smith’s family and friends can coordinate the installation of a marker etched with two wings.

Rev. Utah Smith's grave at Carver Memorial Cemetery (Shreveport, Louisiana), April 2006


Since the publication of Abbott’s book in 2008, I’ve stumbled across a few additional pieces of the Utah Smith story.  Here they are:

"Hundreds Gather in Downpour to Watch Immersion of Converts," The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), June 13, 1938, 2.  Thanks to Clive Holloway for sharing this citation.

Thelma Watson, "Natchez Catastrophe Blamed on Dancing, Saints Criticize," The Plaindealer (Kansas City, KS), May 3, 1940.

"Minister Makes Recordings of Revival Series," The Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), February 4, 1941.
The Billboard, June 17, 1944, 19.

The Billboard, January 18, 1947, 31.

The Billboard, March 15, 1952, 16.

The Billboard, August 22, 1953, 17.
Carver Memorial Cemetery (Shreveport, Louisiana) map, June 1952.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Chris. It would be nice to have a marker for Rev. Utah Smith's gravesite, and I definitely approve of the etched two wings.

    I enjoyed the newspaper clippings as well.

    "It is possible to make a church of a ballroom, but not a ballroom of a church."

    Also, unrelated to the Rev. but interesting to me is the cut off review of probably another record, "...Rain and Dill Pickles"

    Ha, seems like something you'd be into as well.