Marie Betsy Smith

A Musician, She Performed In The Waters Ame Church Choir And Toured With A Choral Group On The East Coast

December 11, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen , fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Marie Betsy Smith, an active member of Waters African Methodist Episcopal Church and its choir, which she enriched for many years with her distinctive contralto, died of cancer Dec. 4 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 80.

Marie Betsy Franklin, who was born into a musical family, was raised in East Baltimore.

She learned to play piano at an early age and after graduating from Dunbar High School in 1948, attended the Baltimore Institute of Music and Art on a scholarship.

Mrs. Smith, who was known as Betsy, began attending Waters AME in 1930, and regularly played piano at worship services and Sunday school.

She became a member of the junior choir and sang her first solo, "King Jesus Is My Captain," when she was 10.

"During the late 1940s and early 1950s, she began singing all over the city as a member of the East Baltimore Girl's Choir," said a son, Charles E. Jones II of Baltimore. "She also performed on the stage of the Royal Theater in the 1940s with Ella Fitzgerald and other stars who played there."

Mrs. Smith, who later was a member and sang with the Olton Society, also performed on WJZ, WBAL and WMAR television.

"The Olton Society was a unique choral concert choir, and they sang at churches all over the East Coast," Mr. Jones said.

Pearl Jean Richardson was a friend of Mrs. Smith's since childhood.

"We became friends at an early age - I guess it was 9 or 12 - when we gave our lives to Christ at Waters AME," she said. "We were very compatible, and every Sunday we were together at church."

She said that it was evident when they were young girls that Mrs. Smith, whom she called her "Big Sister," was talented.

"I loved hearing her sing when we were children. She had a very strong and beautiful voice, and when she sang, you enjoyed it," Mrs. Richardson said. "She had a great talent and always sang with her heart. She also liked singing jazz and popular music, but her parents wouldn't let her sing this at home."

In addition to being a member of the Chancel Choir, the longtime Winford Road resident was also a member of the Minnie E. Walden Missionary Society and the Lay Organization.

Mr. Jones, a professional classical singer, said his mother's last performance was in March at her church.

"I guess I got her musical genes," he said. "It was a mother-son bond, and it was a thrill singing with her at the Women's Day celebration at Waters. She sang 'Am I a Soldier of the Cross,' which really lit up the church."

Mrs. Smith also worked for 17 years as a program technician for the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens until retiring in 1990.

Arlene P. Jackson, a daughter who lives in Baltimore, said, "She truly lived the life she sang about in her songs, and her favorite quote was, 'Music washes away the dust of everyday living.' "

Family members said that one of Mrs. Smith's favorite hymns was "I'm Going to Cling to the Cross."

Another daughter, Peggy A. Briscoe, also of Baltimore, recalled her mother's brand of humor: "If you asked her how she was feeling, she would respond, 'Cloudy but fair,' 'Kicking, but not high,' 'Same old soup warmed over' and 'Kept by his mercy.' "

Mrs. Smith's husband of 38 years, Isaac C. Smith, died in 1994.

"Her hobby was singing. That was her forte," Mrs. Briscoe said.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at her church, Aisquith and Orleans streets.

Also surviving are two other sons, Ronald Franklin Jones Jr. and Dana C. Smith, both of Baltimore; two stepsons, Reginald Thomas and Dennis Smith, both of Baltimore; a sister, Peggy Ann Franklin of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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