Hazel Smith, Creator of the Country Term ‘Outlaw Music’, Dead at 83
Hazel Smith, a mainstay on Music Row since she moved to Nashville from her hometown in rural North Carolina, died on Sunday evening (March 18) at her home in Madison, Tenn., the Tennessean reports. She was 83.
Described as "the mother of Music Row" in a 1997 tribute article in the Nashville Scene, Smith's legacy spans a storied career in country music as a journalist, songwriter and publicist. In the late '70s, she coined the term "outlaw music," while working in the Glaser Studios office as a publicist, when radio stations needed a way to describe the music of popular country artists such as Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
"One day, I was just sitting in the office, and there was an old blue Webster's Collegiate Dictionary just laying there. Now, it doesn't say this in mine or any other dictionary I've seen, but it said that outlaw meant virtually living outside of the written law," Smith told the Scene in 1997. "It just made sense to me, because Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins were doing marvelous music, but this was another step in another direction."
Smith was also a regular contributor to Country Music Magazine who also contributed a weekly column, "Hot Dish," to CMT.com, in which she shared the latest in country news alongside recipes for classic southern dishes. She was a colorful radio and television personality who hosted CMT's Southern Fried Flicks show. Readers can press play above to see a snippet of her work on the show. Additionally, Smith also authored the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars.
The country legend's personal life was no less remarkable: After her divorce, as a young single mother of two, Smith had a romantic relationship with legendary bluegrass picker Bill Monroe. According to the Tennesseean, an argument with Smith became the inspiration behind Monroe's hit, "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine."
A self-proclaimed "mother hen" to country music, Smith expressed concern about the state of country and the songwriting industry in Nashville: "The songwriters now come dragging in about 9:30 AM wearing clean clothes," she told the Scene in her 1997 interview. "They've slept all night in their very own bed in their very own home besides their wife and not somebody else's wife. They haven't been chasing somebody at the Holiday Inn. I don't know how they get their material."
Smith consistently prized the emotional quality of country music, and held all those around her to a standard of honesty and authenticity: "Songs with feelings are what make us unique and what we are today," she told the Scene.
Funeral arrangements for Smith have not yet been announced.