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Friday, June 17, 2011

ABOUT: Goldie Hill

HILL, ARGOLDA (GOLDIE) VONCILE. (1933 – 2005). Goldie Hill was a Texas-born country music singer frequently billed as “The Golden Hillbilly” (and in her later career, as “Goldie Hill Smith”). She was one of the first female country music singers to make theTop 10 Billboard charts in the early 1950s, and was a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride as well as a performer and member of the Grand Ole Opry. She was also the second wife of country music star Carl Smith.

Goldie Hill was born on January 11, 1933 in Karnes City, Texas to John Thomas (J.T.) and Effie May Hill (née Davis). She was the only girl and the youngest of four children: Daniel J. (b. 1924), Kenith “Kenny” Charles (b. 1927), and John Thomas “Tommy” Hill (b. 1929). Hill spent her early life in rural Texas, picking cotton alongside her older brothers on their parents' cotton farm. By the mid 1940s her older brothers Kenny and Tommy determined to try their luck making music, and secured positions playing in nearby San Antonio as “The Texas Hillbillies,” vocally and instrumentally backing up Red River Dave McEnery and country singer Weldon E. Lister, better known as six-foot-seven ‘Big Bill’ Lister, “Radio's Tallest Singing Cowboy.” During their stint with Lister, music and comedy performer Smiley Burnette discovered the pair and invited them to California to become singing cowboy extras on some of his films. The venture was not successful for Tommy and Kenny, however, so they returned to Texas the following year and resumed their musical endeavors.

Upon their return, 17-year-old Goldie began to attend their shows, occasionally joining them on vocals. Kenny and Tommy began to make connections with more established musicians who toured through the San Antonio area and by 1951, Tommy Hill had obtained a position as the fiddle player in Louisiana Hayride star Webb Pierce's regular band. It is Pierce, along with her brother Tommy, to whom Goldie Hill attributed her “official” start as a country music singer. In a 1988 interview with Terry Pitcox, Hill recounted the experience. “It was actually 1952, and my brother Tommy Hill was working with Webb Pierce. Kitty Wells had come out with her records and had something pretty good, and Webb decided he needed a girl singer in the band. My brother said, ‘I got a little sister at home.’ He gave me a call and said, ‘Do you want to sing?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’"

Goldie Hill was 19 years old and had been working for IBM Machines in San Antonio, but she joined the band immediately and began to perform frequently on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride billed as “The Golden Hillbilly.” In June of 1952 she traveled with her brother and the band to Nashville to try her hand at recording on Decca Records (Pierce's record label).

In the wake of Kitty Wells' success with the hit answer song “It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” to Hank Thompson's “Wild Side of Life”, Hill's first release was a single entitled “Why Talk to My Heart,” an answer song to Ray Price's “Talk To Your Heart” which was a current hit on the Billboard country charts. It was not a successful single, but she tried again shortly afterward. “Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes” was a 1952 hit song penned by country star Slim Willet. Willet, Ray Price, and Skeets McDonald had all recorded versions of the song, and all versions charted on Billboard in 1952 (later in the year, Perry Como's pop version would prove an even bigger hit). On the heels of its success, Slim Willet and Tommy Hill decided to collaborate, writing an answer song intended for Kitty Wells to sing. However, Goldie Hill recorded “I Let the Stars Get In My Eyes” before Wells could, and soon enough, the “Golden Hillbilly” became the second female country star to hit the Billboard Top 10 country charts (preceded only by Wells).

By September of 1953, Hill made Nashville her permanent home and made the shift from regularly appearing on the Louisiana Hayride to performing on WSN’s Grand Ole Opry, She appeared regularly on the Opry from 1953 to early 1957, and as a guest star on several country music television shows (such as “Country Tune Parade”). During these years she continued to record, releasing several full length albums on the Decca label and garnering a number of country hits, such as “I’m the Loneliest Gal In Town“, and duets with Justin Tubb (“Looking Back to See”, “Sure Fire Kisses” ) and Red Sovine (“Are You Mine?”).

During the course of her career Hill had repeatedly encountered Carl Smith, a young country music singer and songwriter who would eventually become her husband. Hill's personal recollection of their courtship is coyly succinct: “I met Carl in New Orleans, the first time. He was on the same package tour and we said hello. I saw him again at another performance and we said hello. Then I moved to Nashville and we said hello. Then four years later, we didn't have to say hello any longer.”

During the time that Goldie Hill and Carl Smith were saying hello, Smith was married to June Carter with whom he fathered a daughter, Carlene (born in 1955). Smith had left the Grand Ole Opry in 1956 to pursue a brief career as an actor and singer for some Hollywood westerns, but he returned to Nashville in early 1957 and subsequently joined a tour sponsored by Phillip Morris.

His marriage with June Carter had deteriorated, and their divorce in early 1957 dovetailed with Goldie Hill's departure from the Opry, as she joined Carl Smith as an addition to the Phillip Morris tour. According to Hill the tour was originally supposed to be a standard 13-week stour, but turned out to be over seventeen months long; Smith and Hill married in September of 1957 and Carl Jr., Lori Lynn, and Larry Dean were born in quick succession. The three children were raised on the Smiths’ ranch just south of Nashville, during which Smith would spend as much time as possible with the family between his tours and other music engagements (which lasted well into the 1970s).

From 1957 through 1968, Goldie Hill pursued music to a much lesser extent, choosing instead to concentrate on raising a family. She gave almost no live performances after 1957, but continued to record sporadically. In 1959 she charted once on another duet with Red Sovine (“Yankee Go Home”), and in 1961 “Lonely Heartaches” was a minor hit. Every year or two during the early 1960s, Hill would release new recordings and in the late 1960s, she made stronger attempts at reviving her career. But as her husband Carl Smith’s long, illustrious career began to wind down both he and Hill became more involved in ranch life. Smith, already an avid horseman, raised quarter horses for many years and later embarked on a minor second career with “cutting” (an equestrian sporting event where riders on quarter horses compete to separate a cow from a herd).

Hill and Smith lived out the remainder of their years on the Smith ranch with their family. Goldie Hill died in Nashville, Tennessee on February 24, 2005 after a long bout with cancer; Carl Smith followed in 2010.

Bufwack, Mary A. and Oermann, Robert K. Finding Her Voice: The Illustrated History of Women in Country Music. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company, 1995.

Gibson, Nathan. The Starday Story: The House that Country Music Built. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2010.

Morris, Edward. “Goldie Hill, the Golden Hillbilly, Dead at 72.” CMT. February 25, 2005. Web, accessed April 26, 2011.

Pitcox, Terry. Legendary Conversations (with a Texas Disc Jockey). New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company, 2010.

Star Route 1963 (feat. Host Rod Cameron). rlp Toronto Studios, Medallion TV. Collection of television episodes. Videocassette, 1998 (Distributor Unknown)

Wadey, Paul. “Goldie Hill (the Golden Hillbilly).” Obituaries, The Independent. March 8, 2005. Web, accessed April 20, 2011.

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