Arthur Lee “Red” Smiley, an influential bluegrass rhythm guitarist and singer, was born in Marshall in 1927, and absorbed traditional mountain music growing up. Musician and scholar Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a family friend. By his early teens Smiley was playing music, performing on WROL out of Knoxville.
Smiley saw service in the Army during World War II. In Sicily he was wounded by a bomb, and lost one of his lungs. During his recovery, though, he resumed singing, entertaining fellow patients during his two-year recuperation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
After the War, Smiley settled in Nashville, and studied to be a mechanic. He played with several prominent regional musicians, including Zeke Morris and Red Rector, in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, before joining up with fiddler Tommy Magness in 1949 and playing regularly on the radio from Roanoke, Virginia. When Don Reno left the Blue Grass Boys, he joined Magness’ band, and he and Smiley began recording together.
Reno and Smiley’s 1952 recording session with King Records, which included the single “I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap,” led to success and regular bookings for the duo. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Smiley, with Reno and in other musical configurations, was a regular performer on TV and radio in Central and Western Virginia.
Red Smiley died in 1972 at the age of 47, and is buried near Bryson City.