Narmour and Smith was a popular old-time string band in the 1920s and 1930s. Fiddler William Thomas Narmour was born in Ackerman, Mississippi, on 22 March 1889. His family moved to Carroll County when he was seven, and he lived there the remainder of his life. Narmour first learned to play on a cigar box fiddle built for him by his father, who was also a fiddler, and was “discovered” by OKeh Records at the 1927 Winona Fiddle Contest. Together with guitarist and neighbor Shellie Walton Smith, born on 26 November 1895, Narmour recorded more than fifty 78s between 1928 and 1934, first for OKeh Records and after its collapse for Victor. Narmour and Smith recorded during five sessions—one in Memphis, two in Atlanta, one in New York, and one in San Antonio. Smith played guitar on all these sides except “Rose Waltz,” where he and Narmour swapped instruments.
Their records sold very well. “Carroll County Blues,” their most popular tune, was one of the biggest-selling records of 1929. It remains a standard for old-time fiddlers all over the country and can still be heard frequently today at fiddler’s conventions and old-time jams. Other influential tunes include “Little Star” and “Charleston #1,” “Charleston #2,” and “Charleston #3,” named for the county seat of neighboring Tallahatchie County. OKeh promoted Narmour and Smith’s 78s by including them in a series of “Medicine Show” recordings made in September 1929 with other OKeh artists such as Emmett Miller and the Georgia Crackers, Fiddlin’ John Carson, slide guitarist Frank Hutchison, and pianist Bud Blue. One measure of their popularity was their longevity. After OKeh collapsed, Narmour and Smith signed with Victor Records in 1934, rerecording sixteen of their most popular tunes. Narmour and Smith’s recordings seem to have been most popular in Texas, Mexico, and the West. They continued to play and record long after most string bands had been retired by the Great Depression.
Both musicians returned to Carroll County after their recording careers ended.
Narmour played locally in later years but never again with Smith, who stopped playing after the birth of his children. Willie Narmour farmed, drove a school bus, and owned a garage in Avalon until his death on 24 March 1961. Shell Smith farmed and worked as a high school custodian prior to his death on 28 August 1968. In 2014 Narmour and Smith were honored with a marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail on Lexington Street in Carrollton.
- Harry Bolick website, www.harrybolick.com
- David Freeman, Mississippi String Bands, vols. 1 and 2 (1998), liner notes
- Mississippi Country Music Trail website, ww.mscountrymusictrail.org