Born February 12, 1959, choir director, songwriter, arranger, musician and minister of music Jerry Smith is a native of Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Jackson’s Central High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a master’s degree in music education from Jackson State University.
In 1988, Smith, not quite 30 years old, was invited by Frank Williams to a meeting to discuss the formation of a mass choir. Williams, a member of the Jackson Southernaires and director of Malaco Records’ gospel division, had a vision to form the Mississippi Mass Choir, a group that would combine “the spirit and energy of a quartet and the strength and volume of many.” Smith was named the choir’s first assistant director, under principal director David Curry Jr.
The Mississippi Mass Choir’s self-titled debut album, recorded for Malaco in 1988, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart in July 1989 and set a gospel industry record for spending 45 consecutive weeks on the chart. The album received four Stellar Awards as well as Dove and Soul Train Award nominations. The group was named Contemporary Choir of the Year and Best New Traditional Artist by the Gospel Music Workshop of America.
Today, Smith is the Mississippi Mass Choir’s minister of music. He writes and co-writes new songs and arrangements for the group as well as for the Mississippi Children’s Choir. His contributions include I Need Thee and God Will Fix It (God Gets the Glory, 1991), We Praise You and When I Rose This Morning (I’ll See You in the Rapture, 1996) and God’s On Your Side (with Stan Jones for Declaration of Dependence, 2014).
Smith is founder and director of Jerry Smith and the Children of Israel. The choir appeared on the Canton Spirituals’ groundbreaking 1993 Live in Memphis (Blackberry) and the Mighty Clouds of Joy’s 1996 Live in Charleston (Intersound). Both albums were produced by Melvin and Doug Williams (the late Frank Williams was their brother).
The Children of Israel also recorded their own album for Malaco, 1994’s I’ve Been Touched. It features songs from the pens of such renowned songwriters as Walter Hawkins, V. Michael McKay, David Curry Jr. and former Savoy executive Reverend Milton Biggham. One selection, I Can’t Tell It, was included on Malaco’s The Best of Gospel Choirs, Volume 2, a various artists project released in 2001. Draw Me Nearer appeared on 2004’s Walking with the Lord, another compilation from Malaco’s storied gospel music archives.
Jerry Smith is also minister of music and pianist at Farish Street Baptist Church, located in Jackson’s historic Farish Street District.
—Robert M. Marovich