Sweet Inspiration Myrna Smith, 1941-2010

The Sweet Inspirations (1967)

The Sweet Inspirations (1967)

There is more sad news this month. Myrna Smith, a member of the Sweet Inspirations vocal group, has passed away. She was 69.

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) [1969]
  • On Stage-February 1970 [1970]
  • That’s The Way It Is
  • Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Volume 2 [1971]
  • Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden [1972] (includes Elvis introducing Myrna)
  • Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite [1973]
  • Elvis (Fool)
  • Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis [1974]
  • Pure Gold [1975]
  • Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Volume 2 [1976]
  • From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Welcome To My World [1977]
  • 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.

In recent years, the Sweet Inspirations have continued to record albums and have performed in the Elvis Presley In Concert touring show.

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.

* * *

Sylvia Shemwell, another member of the Sweet Inspirations, passed away earlier this year.

* * *

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.

Shoppin’ Around: Elvis Presley 2010 Christmas Gift Guide

If you know and love an Elvis fan, here are some Christmas gift ideas to suit a wide variety of budgets. Price ranges listed are in US dollars, but most of these items are available around the world.

Under $10

Viva Elvis: The Album: Reactions from the Elvis fan community have been mixed on this CD, which features new backing music to Elvis’ vocals. While this tribute to his career obviously will never replace the original recordings, I love this retrospective. Viva Elvis is a fun and brilliant album that presents Elvis in a whole new light – how it might sound if he recorded today.

Under $20

On Stage (2010 Legacy Edition): This two-CD set contains both On Stage-February 1970 and Elvis In Person At The International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, which capture his August 1969 and February 1970 Vegas engagements. Elvis is in top form here, and these recordings have never sounded better. A few bonus tracks are also included on each disc, from the same time period.

Under $30

Elvis Blu-ray Collection: Jailhouse Rock/Viva Las Vegas/Elvis On Tour: This three-disc Blu-ray set, currently retailing for less than $9 a movie, presents a well-chosen sampler of Elvis’ film career. Jailhouse Rock is the classic 1957 rocker that holds its own against King Creole (1958) and Flaming Star (1960) as Elvis’ best dramatic performance. 1964’s Viva Las Vegas is the highlight of his 1960s “formula” movies – aided, no doubt, by the talents of the beautiful Ann-Margret. Finally, 1972’s Elvis On Tour features Elvis on stage and behind-the-scenes during an April 1972 tour. While not as incredible as 1970’s Elvis-That’s The Way It Is (not yet available on Blu), Elvis On Tour is still a fantastic experience not to be missed.

Fair warning: This 2010 release of Elvis On Tour has been modified from the original version. Due to Warner Home Video’s inability to obtain permission to use “Johnny B. Goode,” the opening song of the movie is now an amateurishly looped, throwaway version of “Don’t Be Cruel.” This only affects the first two minutes of the otherwise unaltered film. The power of Elvis manages to save this release and make it worth recommending. Despite what you may read elsewhere, picture and sound quality for Elvis On Tour are terrific on Blu.

Elvis As Recorded At Boston Garden ’71: This Follow That Dream collectors label CD is a soundboard recording of Elvis’ one and only concert at Boston Garden. This is a must-have for fans of this era, for it provides the missing bridge between his 1970 and 1972 live concert sound. Great show! Find FTD releases at ShopElvis.com and other online Elvis stores.

$400 – $750

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (Franklin Mint); The Complete Elvis Presley Masters (Sony): These are two different but similarly themed CD releases. Both contain all 711 recordings that Sony identifies as masters released during Elvis’ lifetime. Sound quality is upgraded, but faithful to the original mixes (in most cases, anyway). The $400 Franklin Mint version also includes a 24-page booklet, a “record player” style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first SUN record, “That’s All Right”/”Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” The $750 Sony version is aimed at higher-end collectors and includes another 103 songs (alternate masters, outtakes, home recordings, etc.), a 240-page book, and a fold-out case to hold everything. The first run of the Sony edition is sold out, but pre-orders for a January second run are now being accepted. To still have something to place under the tree, you could print out a photo of the set from the Sony site. The Franklin Mint version is still available.

Have fun, fellow Elvis fans, and thanks to all of those who love us!