54 Albums Later, Connie Smith’s Defiant Heart Has Plenty to Say

The country artist Connie Smith, 80, is releasing her first secular recording in about a decade. Her husband, Marty Stuart, calls her “the ultimate outlaw” for doing things her way.

Connie Smith
Connie Smith

What’s the meaning of country music?

“I’ve always believed it’s the cry of the heart,” the 80-year-old singer and songwriter Connie Smith said on a recent video call from her Nashville office, decorated in the distinctive palette she wears onstage. Framed by black walls and purple tufted furniture, she explained, “It’s not necessarily that I’ve lived the song, but that I understand living it. I lived enough to know the heartache and the joy.”

Since Smith’s breakthrough hit “Once a Day” topped the Billboard country chart for eight weeks in 1964, she’s navigated four marriages, five children, 53 studio albums and numerous record labels. Partly because of a period of semiretirement in the 1980s, she’s not necessarily a household name, but her contralto singing is regularly compared to Patsy Cline’s for its might and emotional resonance. Smith similarly conveys a distinct sense that vulnerability does not equate to weakness.

“She might sing a sad song but she’s never sounded like a victim,” the country singer Lee Ann Womack, a longtime fan, said in an interview. “She’s always sounded like she could kick your ass.”

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