ďCher has always been an influence of mine,Ē notes Kelly as we
begin a speaking during a media night with a Legends in Concert
cast. Then she starts to laugh. ďAlthough honestly, Iím still
surprised my mother let me watch all those Sonny and Cher shows
when I was younger.Ē
yesÖ the Sonny and Cher shows.
in the 60s, 70s and 80s, variety shows were a frequent part of
network programming. From those featuring The Smothers Brothers,
Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Barbara Mandrell to legendary titles
such as Laugh-In and Hee Haw, television stations
were filled with top-flight, performance-driven entertainment,
often provided by some of the biggest names in music.
one couple joined together for much of the success of these variety
shows, delivering The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and
The Sonny & Cher Show. For whatever reasons, so many
that it would be impossible to explore them here, the audiences
connected with this couple. They became, as participants in some
of the most successful programs do, part of our own families.
took their separation hard. ďI was done with it when they split
up,Ē she recalls. ďIt really affected me, and I can honestly remember
thinking I was done with them.Ē
wrong time would show her to be.
shared a story about high school. Incredibly shy, she couldnít
bring herself to sing in front of others. But, everyone knew her
ďCher voiceĒ was incredible, and on bus rides her friends would
insist she sing for them.
was kind of crazy. I would tell everyone to turn around. I wouldnít
do it if anyone was looking at me. But they looked away, and I
sang. And now,Ē she pauses to laugh and shake her head a bit,
ďIím still singing.Ē
audiences arenít turning around these days. (But weíre getting
a bit ahead of the story.)
~ ~ ~
is short, even if you live to be 90.Ē
are the words from Kelly during one of our conversations. And
if you ask her how sheís doing, sheíll tell you that she has more
energy and her voice feels strong. This is quite an accomplishment,
and the quote itself is very significant. At the time we met,
Kelly was beginning her first extended run of performances since
having a kidney transplant a year earlier in June of 2010.
and I got together twice in the summer of 2011. By pure definition,
we conducted interviews at those times. But her approachable nature,
and the way she asked questions of her own, led our second meeting
more toward a terrific conversation than any plain question and
is soft-spoken, unfailingly polite, and incredibly attentive.
She considered each subject we discussed with respect and thought,
and provided tremendous insight into her own professional career
and personal challenges.
many years now, she has pursued a career in music. And while the
twists and turns may not have followed the exact path she ever
could have imagined when younger, it is absolutely certain she
has enjoyed a successful career to date and has many significant
moments and accomplishments yet to come.
thing is absolute about KellyÖ you will rarely encounter a person
with as much appreciation for the little moments as her. I am
grateful she allowed me so much time and access to her story,
certainly hope to share more of it with you in the future, and
I am very proud to share this interview with you here on the web
~ ~ ~
long have you been performing with Legends in Concert?
been just over 11 years for me with Legends.
did the connection come from between you and your tribute performances
a lot to that question, because it goes back to when I was really
young, continues throughout school, and then right up to when
I began singing professionally.
a very first memory of music and entertainment, Cher has always
been an influence of mine. I can clearly recall watching her and
Sonny on TV. (Laughs) Although honestly, Iím still surprised my
mother let me watch all those Sonny and Cher shows when I was
separated, and I was done with it when they split up. It really
affected me, and I can honestly remember thinking I was done with
there was high school. I always loved singing, and several of
my friends knew I could do a good impression of Cher. In fact,
they called it the ĎCher voiceí when we would sing on the school
bus or wherever. It was kind of crazy. I would tell everyone to
turn around. I wouldnít do it if anyone was looking at me. But
they looked away, and I sang. And now, Iím still singing.
go back a bit, even before Legends, to the movie you
were a part of. A little over a decade ago you had a chance to
do the singing voice of Cher for a television movie about Sonny
and Cher (And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story).
What was that like?
movie was a high-point of my career and a fabulous experience.
It was based on Sonnyís autobiography.
actually auditioned for the role of Cher and they asked me to
provide the vocals. In the end, that worked out great because
they were recording the music at the same time they were filming,
and I have no clue how anyone could have done both.
you ever met her?
in person. But I have been in the same room as her, sort of.
I was 8, I was really focused on Cher. I had gone to Kansas City
for a conference. Seals and Croft were performing, and I can recall
being in an auditorium and seeing Cher there out of the corner
of my eye.
about it though. Iíve never met her in a way to be introduced.
She may know of me though, in part because of the movie.
you have a favorite time from Cherís career?
I like the 70s and especially her work with Sonny. Thatís where
my first experiences were with Cher. I grew up with their variety
show and remember not watching her solo efforts for a while after
heard you sing songs, for lack of a better description, in three
different voices: your own, as Cher, and as Shania Twain. Personally,
I think your voice is much closer to Shaniaís than to Cherís.
Do you find it difficult to portray someone else? And, how has
your performance developed over time?
definitely been a learning process for me.
spent about 8 years performing in Branson, Missouri, and that
was a tremendous period of time for me. I felt good about my voice,
but that period of time was when I really began gaining confidence
in myself and my stage presence.
funny, because youíre wondering if itís hard to perform as someone
else, but I actually find it to be easier. Shania scared me when
I began working with her material. As you mention, my normal voice
is much closer to how she normally sings, and I never wear a wig
comes back to confidence I suppose, and the acting as another
person is a part of it. If we tried to dig deep we might find
some connection, that in the same way I wanted people to turn
around on the school bus I enjoyed a bit of the extra layer brought
about by changing my voice and putting on a wig or costume.
like a security blanket?
I suppose. (Pauses for a moment.)
strange. I remember being a kid and putting on shows. And I donít
recall being aware of any of the extra details. Maybe as kids
we know who we are a bit better because we arenít as aware of
who we arenít. (Laughs) Does that make sense?
tend to be a very private person. I donít want too much focus
on me. In fact, I have friends that have asked me to sing, say
at a wedding, and I get very uncomfortable with that. I donít
take someone like Cher. She can be blonde. Itís still Cher. And
in my performances, I can change the wig Iím wearing and the costume,
and it doesnít completely matter as long as Iím true to what people
remember. Memories are very powerful assets for tribute artists.
Getting the voice, the wardrobe, the mannerisms, and the song
to come together gives me plenty to focus on while performing,
and I think it does provide security for me in some ways.
are some of your favorite songs to perform?
love singing ďAfter AllĒ when I can. Itís a song Cher originally
performed as a duet with Peter Cetera. People tend to comment
on it positively after shows when I can sing it, though it isnít
one I can easily include in a shorter set.
of audiences and their reaction, what are some of the more memorable
responses youíve had to your efforts?
had people come up to say things like ďyou brought a special moment
backĒ or to thank me while saying ďplease donít ever stop.Ē Those
mean a great deal to me.
often find that people that have never seen a good, professional
tribute performance have preconceived notions about what is going
on, and they are almost all at least a bit wrong.
had a chance to compare my experiences with other tribute artists,
and itís pretty consistent. People know Iím not Cher, or that
they arenít seeing Elvis. But when they smile and tell me how
much they enjoyed the show and how it brought back great memories,
I know itís not a nothing job. And it seems to connect with the
people I meet after each show.
a personal note, Iíve heard you recently went through some major
medical issues. I donít know if you want to talk about that, but
I was wondering if this was your first time back on stage in a
right, and you can mention it.
had a kidney transplant. I have performed some one-night shows,
but this will be my first series of performances since the transplant.
Itís great being back on stage, performing and doing what I love.
All of the effort to be here makes it even more special to see
the audience and their reaction.
order to bring some of this together, from your musical career
to your illness, I want to backtrack a bit. Letís head back to
the beginning and place you on a stage. Did you sing in any way
as a performance while in school? When did you get your professional
was in bands beginning back out of high school. But if you want
the real glamour, I was cutting hair for ten years before music
really became a full-time professional option for me.
1991, I began working in Branson, and if there is a moment where
you could place the career for me, that would be where it would
you mentioned being in Branson for about 8 years. The math from
1991 moves right up to about And The Beat Goes On, and
also the amount of time youíve been with Legends to today.
did find me after the movie, but you have the timing and the connections
just about exactly right. I was looking to expand things a bit,
and they knew my bio and that they wanted me to perform as Cher.
was a bit of wonderful shock joining Legends. The people
I worked with and met as part of Legends in Concert were
fantastic then, and they always have been since those early days.
Itís a great group, and I am so grateful for the opportunities
they have provided me with. The shock was the travel. I was finishing
some work in Branson and then my first performances were to be
in Atlantic City. From there I was supposed to go to the island
of Diego Garcia. It was a lot of travel, and I found myself at
the time thinking that it would be nice to slow it down a bit.
live east of Springfield, Missouri. And I am a true homebody.
I love being at home and spending time there. And itís funny,
because my husband, Dave, travels a lot as well. Heís fine when
both of us need to travel, and I couldnít ask for a bigger or
better supporter of what I do, but he also seems to love it best
when weíre both at home.
you think that enjoyment of a quiet home life has changed anything
for your professional efforts?
donít know. Itís definitely part of it.
probably heard some stories from people, say about heading to
Nashville to pursue a career. I wanted to go to Nashville, and
I did. At the time I was there though, I didnít have the confidence
in myself that I really needed to have in order to make it.
back, I also know I didnít have the health. But thatís not what
you think about when youíre young and impressionable.
cut a 4-song demo that was greeted by slamming doors. It took
me a year and a half to get over that.
long has your health been a concern and a part of the story?
probably talking about when I was 19, but itís strange.
entertainment, especially doing things like a tribute performance,
you are consistently focused on your appearance. I knew back then
it was something I would have to fight my entire life, but I was
young and just starting out. I felt good enough that there were
other things to pay more attention to.
did that change for you?
I always took care of myself. And Iím sure that helped buy me
extra time before things became unavoidable. I went through all
the stages though.
on it was denial for me. I had no clue back then what I was truly
facing. The doctors prescribed some medication, and the symptoms
disappeared. And if the symptoms werenít there, it was almost
like I was perfectly fine. So I always figured that I would beat
one point my doctor started talking about dialysis and a transplant
list and my reaction was to just walk out. I really needed to
be smacked in the head a bit before I came around.
did that happen?
was probably about three years ago that I knew I may not make
it with these kidneys.
husbandís brother died of kidney disease. And thatís one of those
connections from life that really brings focus to you. My husband
has been adamant about my taking care of things.
back before that, my family, specifically my brothers, knew something
was wrong but never how bad it was. I kept moving, and my body
was just used to working.
started changing for me when I got to St. Louis about three years
ago and was told my kidneys were functioning at about 10% of what
they should be. That time probably provided most of my darkest
moments. I had explored all sorts of options. But this time, the
next day I ended up with a port for dialysis and I knew time was
was around Thanksgiving that year that things started to move
more quickly as a result of all this. My husband had been tested
as a possible donor, but he was the wrong blood type. By now my
condition was more apparent to those close to me, and my family
had decided to get tested as well. And, my brother Aaron turned
out to be a match for me.
this led to the transplant?
It took place on June 1, 2010.
having you with us for this series of shows is a great sign in
general. How are you doing now?
Iím doing really well. All the tests and numbers they run come
back with good news and strong results. Iím working very hard
at pacing myself and taking care of myself. Iím very fortunate
to have some wonderful people around me. Thatís so important.
find I have more energy now than I did in recent years before
the transplant. My voice is stronger. Itís a learning process
though. I think I have a bit of a rasp in my voice, and so far
there have been a few notes Iíve been afraid to go for. But much
of that seems to be trust, in that when I was younger I could
simply trust that they were going to be there. As I continue working
Iím finding my confidence is coming back, and I believe that trust
in my full voice will return as well.
are your plans for the future? Do you have plans for re-visiting
some of your own material?
I have plans? (She smiles, offers a slight laugh, and repeats
the question while considering it.)
I would like to get back to some of the material that I consider
my own. I also keep looking at the material I perform as Cher
or Shania and re-vamp it every so often.
reality though is that I enjoy what Iím doing. And whether that
means delivering more inspirational material and my own personal
material, or, performing on stage as Cher, when I see an audience
smiling and having fun itís rewarding for me.
than anything else though, I simply want to appreciate life and
enjoy the opportunities my family has provided me with.
is short, even if you live to be 90.
~ ~ ~
alone cannot express my gratitude to Kelly for her time and consideration.
We met in personÖ exchanged e-mailsÖ and worked around two completely
different schedules on this piece. And through it all she was
kind, attentive and patient. Truly a wonderful person, and I am
extremely grateful for her help and friendship.
can catch up with Kelly by using the following linksÖ
official web site of Kelly Smith
Smith at Legends in Concert
Kelly Smith photo gallery at In My Backpack
two pictures you see in this article have been provided by Kelly
Smith. All rights to these pictures belong to Kelly, and she has
approved their use on my site. They cannot be used for any other
purpose without her permission.