In 1963, a talent contest won by Smith in Columbus, Ohio, included a chance to sing that same day as part of a traveling Opry program. Headliner Bill Anderson liked what he heard and eventually invited Smith to Nashville — first for a 1964 performance on Ernest Tubb’s Midnight Jamboree broadcast and later for demo recordings.
Smith’s debut single, the Anderson-written “Once a Day,” arrived on Aug. 1, 1964, and became an instant success. Its eight weeks atop the country charts set a record for women artists held until Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” topped the feat in 2012.
Smith never recaptured the runaway success of “Once a Day,” but she did string together consistently solid singles and albums well into the 1970s. A Christian conversion in the ‘70s inspired her to juggle future country albums with equally solid gospel recordings. The following rundown of songs offers just a small taste of the great material made possible by one of the all-time-great debut singles.