Born in Ripley, OH, the brother of trumpeter Russell Smith. He played with small groups in St. Louis, MO then went to New York City in 1920. There he joined Kaiser Marshall's band, and accompanied Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith (whose favorite trumpet player he was) and Mamie Smith in 1922 and 1923. In 1924, he led a group backing Noble Sissie and Eubie Blake, and played off and on with Fletcher Henderson from 1925 to 1928
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