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Music History of Wichita The Smart Brothers

Though it may come as some surprise to those not from Wichita, there is a vibrancy and palpable history of local music that stretches back to (for our intents and purposes) the mid 20th century with the bustling entrepreneurship of the Smart family. Released in 2009 on the famed Numero reissue label was a compilation of Smart’s Palace/Family affiliated musicians (click here to listen!), which gives a listener a historical context to the basis of Wichita’s local music scene. As such, I’ve decided to write a bit about the Smart’s and what their music and business endeavors offered to the Wichita scene before I dive into the more contemporary local musicians. 

Music History

Smart’s Palace, the night-club and restaurant, was considered the center of the Wichita soul scene from 1963-1975. Located at 1007 E. 9th St, the Palace was one of many Smart family businesses that sought to offer community to those amongst the local scene. This is where the Smart Brothers began their musical stylings, which are featured on the aforementioned Numero compilation. The hustle of this musical family came to be appreciated by many Wichitans across racial barriers, as the Smart’s realized that “…working in central Kansas, they needed to know as much country & western and rock ‘n roll as soul and R&B to keep their varying audience happy. They claimed to know every song on the jukebox at any given time and would let the audience challenge their knowledge.” (Carfagna & Sevier, Numero). 

 

The necessary multiculturalism of the Smart’s landed them with one of their first record deals with Vantage Records, operated by local DJ Gene Humphrey. Prior to the release of “Lorraine /Barefoot Philly” (Vantage, 713), Humphrey’s Vantage label focused primarily on “minor white acts”, but after the Smart’s Hootenanny night at the Palace came to his attention, he saw the potential of this chameleonic band of brothers. 

 

While their Vantage Records venture may have been considered a success, the family faced other hardships with regards to spreading their sounds, “…as popular in Wichita as the Smart’s were, they had one giant obstacle in their path to selling records: None of the area record stores supported [B]lack music, let alone the local variety [of it].” (Carfagna & Sevier, Numero). Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Smart’s, however, they mitigated this problem by opening Smart’s Music City to sell the Black records that weren’t being sold by other area record stores. This helped foster their Wichita celebrity status by establishing a permanent place to distribute the music that ran through the Palace & other veins of Smart affiliation. With the success of their record store, the Smart cannon of national stardom had been loaded with Theron & Darrell, who “inked a deal with Isaac Hayes shortly before [The] Stax [record label] went bankrupt.” (Carfagna & Sevier, Numero). For those who aren’t familiar, Stax Records is a soul label based out of Memphis, Tennessee which had their most prominent recordings done by the likes of Otis Redding, Carla Thomas and Booker T & The MG’s, just to name a few. Theron & Darrell “were left in the lurch, waiting outside the Memphis studio every day for someone to clue them in [to the labels bankruptcy].” (Carfagna & Sevier, Numero). I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if the Stax deal hadn’t fallen through, perhaps this magnificent group of musicians and entrepreneurs would have finally gotten the national attention they deserve. 

 

This deep-seeded history of Wichita soul breaks many boundaries, and clearly still influences people in the present day. And the point this all seeks to illustrate, as the bumper sticker I have on my car says, Wichita is Not Boring.

Find Live Music in Wichita HERE

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