Photo: Rev. Utah Smith, circa 1948.
Source: Shreveport Sun (Shreveport, LA), June 26, 1948; Black Ethnic Archives, Southern University at Shreveport.
The scene of a minister conducting faith healing ceremonies under a tent in Shreveport’s Allendale-Lakeside neighborhood during the 1940s evokes a striking mental image. Perhaps even more so when one considers the minister was known for wearing large angel wings on his back and playing loud electric guitar. Such is the story of guitar evangelist Rev. Utah Smith.
Smith left vivid memories with those who attended his services, yet he remains largely unrecognized today by the city of his birth. It doesn’t help that his final resting place south of town in Carver Memorial Cemetery lacks a tombstone.
Smith was born a few miles south of Shreveport in Cedar Grove in 1906. By 1930, he had embraced the life of an itinerant minister within the Church of God In Christ (COGIC). During the next dozen years, he lived in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. However, his work conducting religious revivals took him even further — Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, and Atlanta, for example. Around 1944, Smith returned to Louisiana and settled in New Orleans where he established the Two Wing Temple. Here, he ministered the congregation through services, revivals, weddings, and funerals, as well as performances by gospel musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, and Brother Joe May.
Smith’s return visits to his old Northwest Louisiana hometown are documented by one especially useful resource, The Shreveport Sun weekly newspaper. During the summer of 1948, he organized a month-long “Big Tent Revival Meeting” at the corner of Milam and Elder streets (near the current site of Booker T. Washington High School). In February 1950, Smith spent two weeks conducting services for Rev. L. H. White’s COGIC congregation on 80th Street in the Cedar Grove neighborhood. Then, during the fall of 1950, Smith conducted a month-long “Homecoming Revival” at the COGIC located at the corner of Looney and Sycamore streets. Ever the media savvy minister, each of these visits included regular broadcasts of the services on radio station KENT.
In 1965, Rev. Utah Smith returned home to Shreveport one last time. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Carver Memorial Cemetery at Section A, Lot 70, Grave 5. To read a story about visiting Smith’s grave, check out the Shreveport Songs blog.
For those interested in learning about and listening to Utah Smith, I recommend Lynn Abbott’s book/compact disc I Got Two Wings: Incidents and Anecdotes of The Two-Winged Preacher and Electric Guitar Evangelist (CaseQuarter, 2007).