As far as epitaphs go, the words that are etched into Elder Utah Smith’s new grave marker in Shreveport are about as cool as they come: “Electric Guitar Evangelist.” At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, a group of music and history enthusiasts will gather at Carver Memorial Cemetery (498 Kennie Rd., Shreveport) to dedicate Smith’s beautiful new grave marker. The public is welcome to attend what is expected to be a small, but significant, gathering.
Elder Utah Smith (also known as Reverend Utah Smith and the Two Winged Preacher) was a gospel music pioneer who was born in Shreveport’s Cedar Grove neighborhood. As a traveling Church of God in Christ evangelist, Smith would stage unforgettable performances that incorporated rip-roaring electric guitar riffs into tent revival-style gospel. He’d even wear a huge, white pair of angel’s wings and – connected to a system of ropes and pulleys – would “fly” around his 1,200-seat temple in New Orleans. During his heyday, from the late ’40s through the mid ’60s, he’d incorporate other theatrics into his preaching, such as preaching sermons from inside of a casket.
Smith died in 1965. Until recently, he rested in an unmarked grave in Shreveport’s Carver Memorial Cemetery. Local music historian Chris Brown, who co-authors the Shreveport Songs blog, is one of a group of blues and gospel music enthusiasts who recently crowdfunded a grave marker for Smith’s plot. Brown wrote this 2014 post about Smith for 20×49.com.
Financial support for the grave marker came from places like London, New Orleans, Portland, Shreveport, Houston, and Montgomery.
“Here is a guy from our community who, in the world of gospel music, did some really unique and cool things. I was shocked when I discovered that he didn’t even have a marked grave,” Brown said.
“There’s definitely an interest among music fans in visiting the final resting place of musicians, and this makes it much easier to visit Utah Smith.”
Brown hopes that the grave marker will encourage music fans to learn more about Smith’s life and work. Anyone who would like to attend the Saturday, Dec. 1 grave marker dedication is welcome to do so.
Listen to Elder Utah Smith’s song “I Want Two Wings” on Youtube below:
For more information on sites and individuals significant to black history in Shreveport-Bossier, download the Shreveport Southern Soul brochure.
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