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  • Dirk Vogel

Roy Smeck

Wizard of the Strings

The following is a reprint of a 1994 article by Dirk Vogel.

Roy Smeck was born on February 6, 1900, in Reading, PA. - the only one of his family to achieve musical prominence. His father, however, was a music lover and taught Roy his full store of instrumental knowledge: 3 chords on the guitar! Roy passed on his learning to his younger sister, Mildred, and began to reveal an unusual facility in his early teens.

At age 19, he came to New York and appeared as soloist at the Tivoli Theatre. There he came to the attention of the Warner Brothers and his star quickly ascended. He had the honor of appearing in the first talking pictures in 1926, along with such great performers as the violinist Mischa Elman, the tenor Martinelli of the Metropolitan Opera House, Anna Case of the Metropolitan Opera, the pianist Harold Bauer, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1921, Roy mad his first recording. When a traveling Hawaiian show brought the then-famous Sol Hoopii to Binghamton, PA, he was inspired to take up Hawaiia-style guitar. He made two resolutions: 1) He would learn to play it. 2) He would make a recording on it himself. Those two ambitions were pretty well realized. Since that time (1925) he made several hundred recordings on Hawaiian steel guitar. (Ed.: I have steel guitar recordings of Roy on the following labels: Banner, Broadway, Cameo, Challenge, Columbia, Conqueror, Coral, Crown, Decca, Domino, Jewel, Joe Davis, Melotone, Montgomery Ward, Okeh, Oriole, perfect, Regal, Romeo, Sonora, Varsity, Victor, Bennett, . And these are just American labels!)

Roy was an expert on many stringed instruments: steel guitar, guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, jews harp, etc. No wonder he was called "Wizard of the Strings".

He was famous all over the world. In 1939, he played for the King and Queen of England at their coronation in London. He made many world tours and was in vaudeville for 30 years doing a musical act by himself.

Roy wrote over 50 books on how to play instruments, and arrangements for the instruments. Instruments were named after him, recording contracts were the order of the day, etc.

Roy Smeck died on April 5, 1994, at his home in New York. He truly was "Wizard of the Strings" and will be remembered by all the thousands of people whose lives he touched.


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