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InterView Magazine

Finding Your Voice

 
Rhea “Jeannie” Smith will be the first to tell you what a blessed life she has led. When she speaks you can hear the joy bubbling in her
voice about the things she has experienced.
 
She has, like everyone, had her share of ups and downs in her 85 years. What sets her  apart is the positive outlook she maintains. She is continually grateful for the things she has done and continues to do.
        Although a Pomona resident for many years, Jeannie originally hails from upstate New York. Her parents raised cocker spaniels as show dogs, and from a young age Jeannie learned how to professionally show and handle them. She even got the chance to show the dogs at Madison Square Garden when she was only 14 years old.
        It was in New York that she eventually met her husband, William “Bill” Smith. Jeannie and Bill were married for 43 “very short” years. They met at a barn dance. He was playing in the band and she was there to dance with a friend. She danced every dance and he saw her from the stage.

He came down and they danced for a while before he went back to play. After that, no other man approached Jeannie. She found out later that Bill had warned them off. “It was love at first sight really,” she says. Jeannie and Bill married, had two beautiful daughters, and then decided to move their family from New York to  California and start a new chapter in their lives.

Changing Your Tune
        Now on the west coast, the couple continued to build their life together. Jeannie worked as a Dispatch Supervisor for the City of Pomona, working with the police and fire departments, the Humane Society, and others, at the first centralized communications center in the United States. “It was very exciting,” she remembers;
and Bill was a very successful flooring salesman. They were as happy as ever.
Then a health scare disrupted the contentment of the Smith’s lives. At the age of 46,
Bill had a major heart attack and eventually had two quadruple bypass surgeries. It was a “life-changing” experience. Bill had a new perspective on what he wanted out
of life and decided to pick his guitar back up and get back to performing country-and western music professionally. Bill wanted Jeannie
right by his side, as always, and she was happy to be there. “It was quite a life,” says Jeannie. “We really learned to live after that.”
 

At first, Jeannie just played the tambourine while her husband  played the guitar and sang. Then Bill taught Jeannie to play electric bass guitar when she was 53 years old. She had always believed that she lacked rhythm and was a little tone deaf. But after some coaxing and coaching from Bill, she eventually started singing with him. “Bill taught me how to sing, in the right key,” she remembers with a smile in her voice. Once she found that right key, she sang beautifully and joined him in
singing on stage and on the three albums the couple recorded together as “Bill and Jeannie
Smith Classic Country.”
Having found their perfect harmony, the couple bought a motor home and took their act on the road, performing all over California and Arizona. They played in resorts and at state fairs and loved every minute of it.

Time & Music Can Heal
       Then Bill passed away at the age of 64, and the music went out of Jeannie’s life for a time. She was too sad to listen to the country music she had loved and that had
been such a part of her life with her husband. Eventually, her friends were able to ease her back into music, encouraging her to come and “jam” with them until she found herself beginning to heal. Now country music is again bringing joy to her life.

        Every Friday night, Jeannie hosts a jam session with anywhere from 8 to 12 musicians singing and playing a variety of instruments, including a 91-year-old woman who plays the piano, and 25 to 30 friends who are happy just to come by and listen to the great
music.
        Jeannie has lived and continues to live a remarkable life. In her youth she visited the 1939 World’s Fair, and she has stood at the foot of Niagara Falls when thewater was  turned off. She met and married the love of her life, sang and played on stage with him, and has a very large extended family—which includes her two daughters, their children and grandchildren (Jeannie has 11 great-grandchildren). Her musical friends are also her family, so she is surrounded by people she cares about.
        Jeannie believes in being grateful for all the wonderful experiences and “miracles”
she has had in life. “I just try to stay happy, I try to keep an open mind about things, and I try to be a good listener,” Jeannie says. “I have so much to be thankful for.”
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