From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Smith, William Russell

(born: 1890  -  died: 1969) 

Ragtime composer William Russell Smith was born in Versailles, KY, June 12, 1890, and grew up in Indianapolis, IN. He went by the name Russell Smith and was a contract musician when he was 20 years old. He played the piano and lived at home with his parents according to the 1910 U.S. Census. In 1911, he formed a dance orchestra that was the first African American band to play at the Severin Hotel in Indianapolis [source: "Lost Legends of Indiana Jazz" by David Johnson, June 5, 2008, online]. Noble Sissle was a member of the band, and Russell Smith would later join the orchestra that played for the road company of Sissle and Blake's Shuffle Along [BlackPast.Org] and Chocolate Dandies []. In 1917, when Russell Smith registered for the draft, he was a musician at the Murat Theatre [Wikipedia] in Indianapolis, IN [source: WWI Draft Registration Card]. At this time, he was the husband of Leona Singleton; the couple had married in Indianapolis on June 6, 1917 [source: Indiana Marriages Index, File Film No.413547]. A few years later, Russell Smith was working as a laborer with a piano company in Indianapolis [source: 1920 U.S. Census], and he would move on to Manhattan, NY, where he worked as a piano player on the *Keith Circuit [source: 1930 U.S. Census]. By 1940, Russell Smith was again living in Indiana where he was single man, still a musician, living with his older sister Ana and her husband William Walker on Capital Avenue in Indianapolis [source: U.S. Census]. In 1942, he registered for the draft, and Russell Smith was employed at a brewery [source: WWII Draft Registration Card]. William Russell Smith spent his final days working as a janitor in a bookstore during the days and playing at a local tavern in the evenings. He was a widow when he died July 17, 1969 in Indianapolis, and he was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery [source: Indiana Death Certificate State No.69-026923]. Russell Smith was the son of Frances Brown and Albert Smith [source: Indiana Marriages Index, File Film No.413547]. Two of his hits were Princess Rag, and That Demon Rag in 1912. For more see "Russell Smith" in The Jazz State of Indiana by Duncan P. Schiedt.


*For more on the Keith Circuit see Benjamin Franklin Keith at

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Woodford County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Versailles, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Jazz state of Indiana

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Smith, William Russell,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2020,

Last modified: 2017-08-16 20:07:29