This passed Wednesday it was a great honor to have John Lawless provide our class with commentary about his lifelong journey with bluegrass. Lawless conveyed many exuberant stories of his friends in the industry. One topic he spoke on that interested me was the strain on relationships that attempting to play music professionally puts on a couple. My curiosity next led me to the Kenny and Amanda Smith Band, a married couple that Fred Bartenstein lists under the 4th generation. In Bartenstein’s eyes the 4th generation encompassed musicians that were born between 1963-1976 and started recording in 1976 and still continue today. This generation unlike the 3rd generation returned back to the classics of bluegrass that Bill Monroe had made popular a few decades prior.
To better under the story of Kenny and Amanda Smith it helps to understand where their story started. Kenny was born in Nine Mile, Indiana, and Amanda was born in Davisville, West Virginia. Not surprisingly, the love of music is the roots of this relationship. The future couple met at the Milton Opry House in Milton, West Virginia as Kenny was playing with the Lonesome River Band. By the time the couple met in the late 1990s Kenny had already established himself for his flatpicking-style guitarists, winning IBMA guitarist of the year during his spell with the Lonesome River Band. On the other hand, Amanda had been more sheltered, singing in choirs and continuing to sing more locally. It is hard to believe that just a few years later after meeting in a small opry house, the couple released their first album together entitled Slowly but Surely. This album was noted for the intimate setting that Kenny and Amanda created. The album also showed the couples strong faith in their Christian beliefs. Shortly after, in 2003, the Smith’s band received the award for IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year. The band’s next two albums continued to solidify them as serious musicians in bluegrass. Finally, in 2007 the band did something that they had been aspiring to do since their formation, an album dedicated completely to gospel music (as seen below).
Connecting the music to their relationship, Kenny and Amanda both acknowledge that their faith has kept them together. This faith is what many people note as what makes their music so true and powerful. The death of Kenny’s Father really told the Smiths that it was time to record this gospel album. Looking back, both Kenny and Amanda speak much about how this album not only brought them closer to each other; it brought them closer to the Lord. When you hear the couple sing you cannot only see and hear a relationship with each other, you see a strong relationship with their faith. This is seen in the video below:
Going on about the relationship of Kenny and Amanda Smith, they both mention their trust in each other frequently. Starting out they realized financially it would not be easy; however, they trusted in themselves to produce good music and that they were doing the Lord’s work. Both Kenny and Amanda do admit it was tough getting their start with producers wanting past work with the two, but their persistence has stayed true. They are so grateful to be able to continue to do what they love as their “job.”
Today, the couple is still producing music. Overall they have now had eight albums together, have been nominated for a Grammy and received a couple of IBMA awards. Before conducting research on this group, I embarrassingly, was unaware of their existence. Now, I agree with many of their reviews. Amanda has unmatched vocals that almost compete with Allison Krauss and Kenny can play his guitar remarkably well. His two Guitarists of the Year from the IBMA are well deserved.