Margo Smith, “The Tennessee Yodeler,” gave her first public performance following a particularly exasperating public moment when she realized she would have to sing without a piano. “I was only 5, but I knew a lot about music,” Smith said in a September interview with The Villages Daily Sun newspaper. “I said, ‘How am I supposed to get my pitch without a piano?’ Then my mom looked at me and said, ‘Sing the song.’”

The 79-year-old said that she sang the song “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and hasn’t really ever stopped. Never expecting that she would become a Country music star who would appear on the Grand Ole Opry or record three No. 1 hits or tour with some of the greatest Country musicians of her time, Smith graduated from Ohio’s Wittenberg University with a major in elementary education and taught school for seven years.

In Smith’s early thirties she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of being a Country music singer and yodeler. She initially performed on local radio broadcasts and at PTA meetings. She wrote her own songs and soon she gathered her on fan following.

The busy singer recorded a demo record and released her first album in 1971 entitled “I’m a Lady.” Smith composed eight tracks of the 12 tracks on the record. Some of the songs were gospel covers, including the well-known gospel song, “In the Garden.” When 20th Century Fox Records signed her in 1975, the Ohio native used her real name, “Betty Lou Miller, given her upon her birth April 9, 1942. However, she began presenting herself to the world asMargo Smith” shortly after she signed the Fox contract.

Smith’s first single, “There I Said It,” made the Top 20 on the RPM Country singles chart in Canada. Smith’s self-titled debut album, “Margo Smith,” was issued by 20th Century Fox and included self-penned tracks. The album was Smith’s first to make the Billboard Country Albums list. Smith’s second single, “Paper Lovin,’” made the Top 30. Smith then signed with Warner Brothers due to her label shutting down.

“Save Your Kisses for Me” reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Country Singles survey in 1976. Smith’s 1976 studio album entitled “Song Bird” reached the Top 40 Billboard’s Country Albums chartThe single, “Take My Breath Away, climbed to No. 7 on the Billboard chart. The song was Smith’s first released single from her third studio album, “Happiness.” Three singles were released from the album. The single “Love Explosion,” a duet with a well-known producer Norro Wilson, landed the song on the Top 20 hit list.

Smith covered two Pop songs, “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” and “ It Only Hurts for a Little While.” The songs made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Country songs survey. Smith’s next single, “Little Things Mean a Lot, climbed to No. 3 on the Country songs chart and had also been a Pop cover prior to Smith’s rendition of the song.

“Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You,” “It Only Hurts for a Little While” and “Little Things Mean a Lot” were all on Smith’s fifth studio album called “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You.” The album combined original as well as cover songs.

In 1979 Smith teamed up with songwriter Mack David and producer Norro Wilson to write an anthem for middle-aged women called “Still a Woman.” The song made it to No. 7 on the Billboards Country list and the Top 20 on the RPM chart that same year. “Still a Woman” was released on an album called “A Woman,which reached No 36 on Country Albums chart.

The album’s second single, “If I Give My Heart to You made it to the Top Ten on the Billboard Country chart. Smith’s efforts to be open about her sexuality and to create a platform for other women to discuss their sexuality, gave her a larger female fan base. Smith’s 1979 album, “ Just Margo,” featured Smith in only a satin robe on the cover of the album. Canadians loved the album. This caused “Just Margo” to make it to the No. 14 slot on the RPM Country Albums survey.

Smith’s 1980 album, “Diamonds and Chills,” spawned two singles. The first was a cover of Mary Wells “My Guy.” The song did well in North America. Smith collaborated with fellow country artist Rex Allen Jr. for a duet, “ Cup of Tea,a song that peaked at No. 12 on the Country songs chart.

Throughout the 1980s Smith began working with her new label, Cameron Records, an independent label founded by Smith’s second husband, Richard Cameron. In 1981 Smith released the album “Ridin’ High” followed by the album, “The Best Tennessee Yodeler,” in 1983. The album showcased a different side of Smith by focusing on her yodeling abilities. It was marketing directly to the public through television advertising.

In 1985 Smith was chosen to be among Dot Records veteran Country singers to release new music. The next year she released her second self-titled album in conjunction with Dot Records and MCA Records. The album featured Smith’s hits from the 1970s. Smith released her next studio album entitled “The Best Yet in 1987. A single from the album, “Echo Me,was Smith’s last charting hit.

In the 1990s, Smith teamed up with her daughter, Holly, and gained success on contemporary Christian radio stations by doing several duets. The pair released their first album in 1991 called “Just the Beginning. In 1992 they released their second album, “Wishes.” The mother- daughter duo was nominated forVocal Duo of the Year at the Christian Country Music Awards.

They continued their popularity by touring and performing for charitable events until the mid1990s. Smith continued performing, selling a learning to yodel tape on TV and making appearances on local television shows such asAmerica’s Got Talent. In 2005, Smith released her album, “Nothing to Lose.”

Smith was inducted into the International Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and also earned a Canadian Country Music Association Living Legend Award. 

In 2014 Smith was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident, but by the following February, she was back to yodeling at performances in The Villages, Florida, where she has been a resident for several years.

Although Smith fell ill with double pneumonia in 2016 and was on life support, she recovered and has appeared on stage as late as 2019. She attends Fairway Christian Church in The Villages, where before the pandemic she and her daughter frequently performed together.

by Sasha Dunavant