Whispering Jack Smith
Jack Smith (31 May 1898, The Bronx, New York City – 13 May 1950, New York City) was known as "Whispering" Jack Smith and was a popular baritone singer in the 1920s and 1930s who made a brief come-back in the late 1940s. He was a popular radio and recording artist who occasionally appeared in films.
Smith was born John Schmidt.
On his WW1 Draft Registration Card (dated 5 June 1917 at a precinct in the Bronx, NYC) he gave his name as "Jacob J Schmidt", his date of birth as 30 May 1896 and his age as 21 years. He was a "Theatrical singer" employed by "McLaughlin Agency, Pgh, Pa"; and for Where Employed wrote "Traveling in Theatres" (spelling exact). His mother was his only dependent. He was single and Caucasian. The Registrar recorded him as "Tall" of "Medium" (build) with "Blue" (eyes) and "Brown" (hair), but "No" (to bald?). He had no disability. He signed the Card "Jack Schmidt".
Smith began his professional career in 1915, when he sang with a quartet at a theater in the Bronx. After service in World War I, he got a job in 1918 as a "song plugger" for the Irving Berlin Music Publishing Company. He was a pianist at a radio station when he got his singing break substituting for a singer who failed to show up. Smith was exclusively on the radio, but beginning in 1925, he began making records. He also started performing on-stage on the vaudeville circuit. In 1927, Smith toured England, performing with the Blue Skies Theater Company singing tunes such as "Manhattan" by Rodgers and Hart and songs by Gershwin, when he was suddenly replaced by a new all-girl singing trio, the Hamilton Sisters & Fordyce. Smith returned to New York and eventually went to work for NBC Radio.
He died of a heart attack at the age of 51 and is buried next to his mother Anna Schmidt at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City. His grave is unmarked. He was survived by his wife, Marie.
He had a very distinctive style which was a combination of singing and talking in a very "intimate" way using the microphone very effectively as opposed to "belting" the song out. His "whispering" style of singing was a result of a World War I injury from poison gas that kept him from singing at full volume. He and Art Gillham made the "whispering" style popular, and there were a number of imitators. Smith took to the relatively newly invented microphone, and it was singers like "Whispering" Jack Smith and the early "crooners" who developed the use of this "modern" technology.
A book entitled Whispering Jack & Peggy 'O' was released by Tate Publishing in February 2014. The book has been classified as a Biography/Autobiography. The timeline of the narrative is from just before the end of World War 1 until Smith's death. The book consists of 488 pages and includes pictures from Smith's home movies.
Smith’s "disarmingly intimate, polite, and velvety smooth delivery … distinguished him from everyone else." One reviewer in describing his "whispering" style said that "His art was the epitome of understatement." Another indicated, "With a pleasing stage presence, and a genial manner, Whispering Jack Smith establishes contact with his audience just as soon as he sits at his grand piano, and he wins more applause with every song."
His performances can be found on a number of compilations of recordings from the 1920s and 1930s. In 1995 Pavilion Records released a retrospective CD entitled Whispering Jack Smith. In 2000, ASV released Me and My Shadow a compilation of his later songs, taking its title from his 1927 hit song "Me and My Shadow".
- Liner notes Charleston: Great Stars Of The 1920s CD:PPCD 78132
- Staff (15 May 1950) "“Whispering Jack Smith” is Dead" Dunkirk Evening Observer p.11, col. 2
- "Jack Smith Dies at 52; Whispering Baritone", The New York Times, 14 May 1950, p. 106.
- Review of the 2000 Me and My Shadow CD AJA 5372, Spun.com
- Staff (7 April 1929) "Whisperer Pleases Martini Audience" The Galveston Daily News p.17, col.4
- Whispering Jack Smith PAST CD 7074, Flapper, Pavilion Records, Wadhurst, E. Sussex, England, 1995. OCLC 43543276
- Me and My Shadow CD AJA 5372, ASV, London OCLC 50909934
- "Internet Archive Search: Whispering Jack Smith - archive.org (multimedia content in the public domain)". Retrieved 30 April 2012.
- 'Whispering' Jack Smith at the Internet Movie Database
- Listen to "Me and My Shadow" from Internet Archives
- Watch Whispering Jack Smith sing Happy Days – From 1929 on YouTube.