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From the desk of Alison Gibson, Director
Who has had articles written about him in Jazz Journal and Downbeat? Who is in Ken Burn’s Jazz opus and just about every jazz encyclopedia there is? Who was Bessie Smith’s favorite sideman? Recorded with Ethel Waters? Who played in Fletcher Henderson’s band, as well as was in one of the earliest jazz films (St. Louis Blues, 1929)? Who’s trumpet playing was described as lyrical, soulful, sweet, clean, of purest tone, ‘a woman’s voice in song’, and master of the plunger mute? Had come from a family of trumpet players including at least three brothers that played professionally? Left home at 12 years old? Had nicknames Toots and Fox?
Ripley’s own Joe Smith is who! Born in 1902 and tragically died in 1937, our own Joe Smith came from a very musical family here in Ripley. Father Luke Smith Sr. was the school band leader and apparently was quite the stern taskmaster on having his kids practice with their instrument. Joe left home around the age of 12 and proceeded to learn the trade by playing with bands in Cincinnati, then moved on to New York. Travelled all over the country with various jazz and swing bands of which Fletcher Henderson’s band was the most famous. Russell, an older brother, played in Cab Calloway’s band, also Fletcher Henderson’s band, went to Europe and played with the top 2 WWI military bands. Luke Jr. played well, but according to Russell, only played for money, Stanley died in 1918 when he was on the road with a show company. In 1917, Stanley and Russell were back in Ripley to play with the Ripley school band on the library steps.
There is quite a bit of information on Joe and Russell at the library, and we are looking for more information on the rest of the family. We also have some Fletcher Henderson and military band music on CD that you can check out. (thanks to Jerry Strange for his research and writing on Joe Smith)
We have been looking for a way to showcase the magic of the uniquely American music form of jazz while giving exposure to the Smith family. We are delighted to welcome Cincinnati’s Jazz Alive organization to Ripley on Sunday, April 30th at 4:00 p.m. at the Ripley Library annex . We invite everyone to come to listen and learn from 6 musicians as well as the head of Jazz Alive, Laura Gentry. They will cover the history and range of jazz along with discussing the Smiths’ place in jazz history. One of the musicians scheduled to appear is Josh Strange, grandson to Ripley’s Jerry and Hylda Strange. Years ago, Josh played for a crowd in the annex on his vibes, and we’re happy to have him return, along with other Cincinnati musicians playing trumpet, saxophone, drums, trombone, and bass. This is a free event and we hope you plan to spend your Sunday afternoon grooving to some amazing music.
Back in March we encouraged people of all ages to come and pick up a mini canvas and let their creative juices flow—we had about 20 canvases return, and they are on display in the children’s section—from toddler to senior, Ripley has talent, and it is fun to see.