Smith Ballew

Sykes "Smith" Ballew (January 21, 1902 – May 2, 1984) was an American actor, sophisticated singer, orchestra leader, and a western singing star. He also was billed as Buddy Blue, Charles Roberts, and Billy Smith.[1]

Smith Ballew
Smith Ballew on a 1931 sheet music cover.
Smith Ballew on a 1931 sheet music cover.
Background information
Birth nameSykes Ballew
Born(1902-01-21)January 21, 1902
Palestine, Texas, U.S.
DiedMay 2, 1984(1984-05-02) (aged 82)
Longview, Texas, U.S.
GenresPopular music, Jazz, Country music, Western movies
Occupation(s)Vocalist, musician, orchestra leader, film actor
Years active1930s–50s

Early yearsEdit

The son of William Young Ballew and his wife, May Elizabeth (Smith) Ballew,[2] he was born in Palestine, Texas in 1902,[3] where he grew up attending local schools. He attended Sherman High School, Austin College[4] and the University of Texas.[2]

During his time at Austin College, Ballew and his brother, Charlie, formed the Texasjazzers orchestra.[4] Before that, he organized Jimmie's Joys jazz combo at the university, playing banjo and singing with the group.[2]


Starting in the late 1920s, he became one of the most recognizable vocalists on hundreds of dance band and jazz records, based in New York City. During this time, Ballew along with Scrappy Lambert, Dick Robertson, and Chick Bullock were the most prolific studio vocalists.[citation needed] In 1929, he organized the Smith Ballew Orchestra, with a focus on his singing.[2]

Ballew began his singing career on the radio. In the 1930s he became known as one of the earliest of the singing cowboys on the movie screen. His film debut came in Palm Springs (1936).[2] He did a series of musical Westerns for Paramount Pictures and one for 20th Century Fox, continuing in supporting roles until the 1950s.[citation needed] He also dubbed singing for John Wayne in The Man from Utah (1934).[5]

Ballew was one of the hosts of old-time radio's Shell Chateau.[6]

Ballew's band's opening theme song was "Tonight There Is Music in the Air"; its closing theme was "Home".[7]

Between 1929 and 1935, he made scores of records issued under his own name for OKeh, the dime store labels (Banner, Domino, Jewel, Regal, Perfect, Oriole as Buddy Blue & His Texans or Jack Blue's Texans), Columbia, and Crown. Few of these popular records gave any indication of his future Cowboy style.


Ballew died at the age of 82 in Longview, Texas. He was buried in Fort Worth.[8]


  1. ^ "Smith Ballew (vocalist)". Discography of American Historical Recordings. University of California. Archived from the original on September 21, 2019. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Slate, John H. "Ballew, Sykes (Smith)". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Archived from the original on September 21, 2019. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  3. ^ Lee, William F. (2005). American Big Bands. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 63. ISBN 9780634080548. Retrieved 5 March 2017. Smith Ballew.
  4. ^ a b Zelade, Richard (2015). Austin in the Jazz Age. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781625854537. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  5. ^ Hughes, Howard (2007). Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Westerns. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9780857730466. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  6. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  7. ^ Walker, Leo (1989). The Big Band Almanac. Da Capo Press. p. 21. ISBN 0306803453. Retrieved 5 March 2017. Smith Ballew.
  8. ^ Jasinski, Laurie E. (2012). Handbook of Texas Music. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9780876112977. Retrieved 5 March 2017.

External linksEdit