Billy Smiley

By Thomas Howard - Delta Democrat Times - March 15, 2018

Billy Smiley Sr., a beloved local blues musician who was killed in 2017, will be honored with a special headstone today.

The Mount Zion Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit that since 1989 has worked to memorialize the contributions of musicians, will dedicate Smiley's headstone at 4 p.m. today in the Legends section of the Greenlawn Memorial Gardens.

T. DeWayne Moore, executive director of the Memorial Fund, said Smiley is being honored for his contributions to the community and the music of the blues and jazz.

"He's played festivals all over the Delta and worked in multiple Delta schools as the music director. We want to honor Mr. Smiley for his contributions."

The dedication, Moore said, will be lead by Woodrow Wilkins, a Greenville journalist and author, who knew Smiley and followed his music.

"He covered some of the events Mr. Smiley had done," Moore said.

Also present at the dedication will be one of Smiley's sons, local musicians, including Rob Mortimer, and other community members who want to pay tribute to the Greenville musician.

"It's up in the air as to who all will be participating," Moore said, adding he expects many more people to come than those who responded to the invitations. 

Anyone who attends will be given an opportunity to share thoughts or memories of Smiley, Moore said.

After the graveside headstone dedication, folks will be invited to the Walnut Street Blues Bar, 128 S Walnut St., where Smiley's name will be added to the Greenville Blues Walk.

"That's the sidewalk around Walnut Street," said Wilkins, who helped organize the event.

"They get their name and likeness added. It's modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame but for local artists."

Wilkins said Allen Orlicek, who carves the memorial stones for the Blues Walk, will be on hand to display Smiley's stone and install it in the sidewalk.

Since 1989, the Mount Zion Memorial Fund has memorialized and honored musicians in rural communities, where they may not have a marked grave.

Since the founding, the organization has raised the funds to build memorials for 22 blues artists and continues to raise money to expand that list.

However, Moore said, the memorial for Smiley is somewhat different.

"The family paid for it," he said. "This is not one of the ones we paid for. His family contacted us about doing a memorial."

Brief bio about Billy Smiley Sr.

Smiley, a Delta bluesman who loved to put on a show for his audience, succumbed to injuries sustained in a late night stabbing in February 2017. He was 59 years of age.

Hours before the stabbing, several local musicians, including Smiley, Leonard Stevenson Jr., Mortimer and John Horton, were jamming at Walnut Street Blues Bar with a German blues band who was in town filming a German blues documentary

Stevenson was later charged with two counts of capital murder in the stabbing deaths of Smiley, 59, and Ronnie Tubbs, 59. All three were involved, at one time or another, in Smiley & The Young Guns. 

Smiley, who performed for about a decade with various bands, including The Billy Smiley Band, also taught music in the Greenville Public School District and was the band director at Greenville High School until 2013.

Smiley is survived by his sons, Billy Frank Smiley Jr., of Greenville, Dexter Lee Smiley, of Jackson, Billy Frank Lee Smiley, of Augusta, Georgia, and Elic Bankhead, of Madison, Wisconsin; his daughters, Dorian Weatherspoon, of Dallas, and Ronena Turner, of Oaklawn, Illinois; his brothers, James Alvin Smiley and Dornell Smiley, both of Greenville, and Robert Earl Smiley, of Shelby; his sisters, Lucy Solomon, of Milwaukee, and Barbara Wright, of Greenville; and five grandchildren. 

Smiley played keyboards for Jerry Fair's Cultural Blues Band in the mid-2000s, during
which time he was the band director for Coleman Junior High School in Greenville

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