There are many love stories throughout the history of country music. There are also an ample amount of divorces. It’s all fed into the narrative of country music itself and unfolded like a country song: Johnny and June, George and Tammy, Waylon and Jessi just to name a few. But perhaps no love story is more improbable, more magical, and more poetic and prophetic than the love affair that transpired between Country Music Hall of Famers Marty Stuart and Connie Smith.
It all started when Marty Stuart was just 11-years-old, in the summer of 1970, when Connie Smith—17 years Marty Stuart’s senior—was already an established star, and had landed over a dozen Top 10 hits. Connie Smith happened to be Marty Stuart’s mother’s favorite singer, right behind Marty Robbins, who she named her young son after. Stuart’s mother had a copy of Connie Smith’s 1966 album Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, with a portrait of Connie Smith on the front.
“I sat it up on our stereo in the living room and walk by it and just look at it and think, ‘She’s really pretty. I think Connie Smith is beautiful,'” Marty Stuart recalls about the album. “There was a lot of people that had crushes on Connie Smith. Still do. But her music, her songs, her singing was so powerful as well. It went beyond her beauty. She had that power in her voice to reach out and touch your heart.”
So before Marty Stuart had even seen Connie Smith, he’d already developed a crush, and a magical connection to her to the point when she was booked to perform at the annual Choctaw Fair in Stuart’s hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi in the summer of 1970, Marty was counting down the days. He asked his mother to buy him a yellow shirt for the event. Why a yellow shirt? Because Marty Stuart wanted Connie Smith to notice him in the crowd that would assemble on the Choctaw High School football field for the performance. Stuart’s mom obliged.
On that Saturday, Marty’s mother took him and Marty’s sister Jennifer to see Connie, and according to Marty, it was love at first sight. After the show, Marty Stuart got his picture taken with Connie, and also got her autograph. Afterwards, right as Connie was getting ready to leave, Marty asked his mother if he could borrow her camera. An avid photographer later in life, Marty rushed over to a car where Connie was seated, and asked if he could take her picture.
“I must have put it right on her nose, because it was really close up. The first picture I remember taking in my life, and it was of Connie,” Stuart says. As for Connie, it was just an interaction with some goofy kid who was a fan, and she didn’t particularly recall Marty. But on the way back home from the show, Marty Stuart swore to his mother that he was going to marry Connie Smith someday.
Quite miraculously, 27 years later, on July 8th, 1997—25 years ago today—Marty Stuart did marry Connie Smith. What makes it miraculous is not just that Marty Stuart’s prediction as an 11-year-old came true, but the twists and turns both Marty Stuart’s and Connie Smith’s life took before that prediction was fulfilled.
In 1961, Connie Smith married her first husband, Jerry Smith. This is where her “Smith” name comes from. Connie’s maiden name was Meador. The couple had a son in 1963, but they divorced in the mid 60s, and Connie married her touring guitarist, Jack Watkins, and had her second son, but the couple also separated about a year after marrying. It was after this marriage that Connie could officially go as “Miss Smith” on the album cover that Marty Stuart initially became so enamored with. Connie was a free woman when Marty first saw her in Philadelphia, Mississippi in the summer of 1970, though not for long. She shortly married a telephone repairman, and the couple had three daughters. This third marriage of Connie Smith lasted into the 90s, but eventually ended as well, with Connie swearing she would never marry again.
Meanwhile, Marty Stuart wasn’t exactly waiting around for Connie. A year after meeting Connie, he was already getting involved in country music himself, playing guitar and mandolin by the age of 12, and performing with the Gospel band The Sullivans. After meeting Roland White, Marty was hired to play in the backing band of Lester Flatt by 1972, who he played with until 1978 when Flatt retired. He later joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980, and by 1983, he was married to Cash’s daughter and fellow performer Cindy Cash. The couple divorced in 1988.
So finally in the mid 90s, both Connie Smith and Marty Stuart were free agents, and at the same time, and when Marty was of marrying age. They met at a music industry event in 1994, where Marty presented himself as a producer and co-writer for Connie. As they wrote songs together, they started to fall in love. Marty Stuart and Connie Smith were married on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in a traditional Lakota ceremony presided over by a holy man named Marvin Helper on July 8th, 1997 .
“Marrying Connie is, without question, the greatest event of my life,” Marty Stuart recalls in his 2019 picture book The Pilgrim: a Wall-To-Wall Odyssey. “Two hours beyond sunset, after our marriage vows had been spoken, Connie and I went up on a hill to dance with the wind. Out in the distance, a lightning storm flashed in all directions, making not a sound. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. God performed a light show for us that evening that was beyond words.”
It’s all quite improbable, and beautiful: Marty’s prediction being fulfilled despite the 17 year age difference, and the twists and turns the two took to eventually find each other. Now for 25 years, the love between Connie Smith and Marty Stuart has been a constant in country music, as has their love for country music itself, which has been like a beacon in tumultuous times, and has put both of them in the Country Music Hall of Fame, together, and forevermore.
The story of Marty Stuart and Connie Smith is country music incarnate, and it all started with an implausible prediction that was ultimately fulfilled.