Blue Sunday

Bennie Smith: 1933-2006.

During the recent Big Muddy Blues Festival, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay read an official proclamation declaring September 2, 2006 "Bennie Smith Day."

"Bennie Smith has been an icon for many, many years," Slay says. "He is one of the reasons why St. Louis is known for its blues and its music."

Smith was one of the last of his generation of bluesmen, a dwindling coterie whose ranks have been thinned by age. Since 2000, St. Louis has witnessed the deaths of blues legends Johnnie Johnson, Oliver Sain, Tommy Bankhead and Big Bad Smitty, to name but a few.

Bennie Smith at the 2005 Johnnie Johnson tribute at the Pageant
Mark Gilliland
Bennie Smith at the 2005 Johnnie Johnson tribute at the Pageant

Though Smith never married, he was well loved. He is survived by three daughters: Valerie London, Sonja Vauters and Benita Smith, as well as a host of grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

In his last years, Smith seemed to become increasingly aware that his generation — and an entire musical genre — was verging on extinction. Each time he performed his signature song, "Drown in My Own Tears," he would end with a simple tribute to the aged and fallen:

"Ain't but a few of us left."

Editor's note: A musical tribute and wake for Bennie Smith is scheduled for noon to 7 p.m. Friday, September 15, at the Ronald L. Jones Funeral Chapel, 2161 East Fair Avenue. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, with burial following at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Donations to the Bennie L. Smith Memorial Fund can be made at any Bank of America branch.

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