There is more sad news this month. Myrna Smith, a member of the Sweet Inspirations vocal group, has passed away. She was 69 (Myrna Smith R.I.P 1941-2010 — Elvis Australia).
The Sweet Inspirations backed Elvis on stage from his return to live performances in 1969 through his death in 1977, performing with him in over a thousand concerts. Before becoming an integral part of Elvis’ live show, the Sweets were already a Grammy-winning gospel group that had backed Aretha Franklin, among others. Outside of their time with Elvis, their best known hit as a group was “Sweet Inspiration,” which was released as a single in 1968.
Myrna appears with Elvis in the documentary movies That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972). She also appears with him in the television specials Aloha From Hawaii (1973) and Elvis In Concert (1977). “They help me get a feeling and get to my soul,” Elvis said of the group in 1969.
She can be heard on the following Elvis albums released during his lifetime:
- From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (Elvis In Person At The International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada) 
- On Stage-February 1970 
- That’s The Way It Is
- Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Volume 2 
- Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden  (includes Elvis introducing Myrna)
- Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite 
- Elvis (Fool)
- Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis 
- Pure Gold 
- Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Volume 2 
- From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
- Welcome To My World 
- Moody Blue
She also can be heard on countless other Elvis albums released since his death.
She loved Elvis “like a brother”
In a 2005 interview available on Elvis Australia, Myrna shared a special memory of Elvis:
This is when we first met him, y’know. [Elvis] had us up at the penthouse, and he was playing 45s. We were having a little party, a little get-together – drinks at the bar and stuff. [He] came up to me and said, ‘Do you wanna dance?’ It was a slow record. So I said, ‘O.K.’
“And I don’t think that Elvis had ever danced with a black woman before, because he started dancing with me, [and] I felt like just grabbing him and holding him, ’cause his whole body was trembling.
“And, but he was, y’know, he was shy anyway. But all these girls, y’know, that he’d been around, and he’s this macho lover, whatever, and he was [really] just a little boy [...] that’s what he was, y’know.
“I looked upon him, a part of my family, like. [W]hen he died and I was screaming, my mother said, ‘He’s not in the family. [Why] are you cry[ing], [why] are you breaking up?’
“Because I love him, he’s like a brother.”
Myrna dated Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis’ best friends, for a number of years. After Elvis’ death, the two married. Schilling went on to manage the Beach Boys, and Myrna co-wrote many of the songs on Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s 1981 self-titled solo album. Her marriage with Schilling ended in 1985 after five years, but the two remained friends.
Myrna, thank you for sharing your incredible voice with all of us. You will be missed, but always remembered.
My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this time.
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Sylvia Shemwell, another member of the Sweet Inspirations, passed away earlier this year. To honor both ladies, I am planning a look back at the Sweet Inspirations in 2011.
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Additional Research Sources
- The Elvis Encyclopedia by Adam Victor, Overlook Duckworth, New York, 2008.
- Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998.
- Me And A Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship With Elvis Presley by Jerry Schilling with Chuck Crisafulli, Gotham Books, New York, 2006.
- ELVIS: His Life From A To Z by Fred Worth and Steve Tamerius, Wings Books, New York, 1992.