Tulsa Sound figure 'Sweet Emily' Smith dies at 69
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
1/09/13 at 4:38 AM
When it came to her feelings about rock 'n' roll, Emily Smith had always been transparently passionate.
But seldom more so than this.
Leon Russell, a longtime friend, recalls how during Joe Cocker's 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, for which she was part of the traveling entourage, Smith made her presence known on stage - dancing in a dress of see-through vinyl.
"What can I say about her," Russell said, chuckling. "Emily was a debutante in her own special way."
For his part, Russell found a special way to immortalize her.
A onetime Tulsa nightclub owner and friend to many Tulsa Sound artists, Smith was the inspiration behind Russell's song "Sweet Emily."
And even if they never composed tributes to Smith, Russell's fellow musicians rivaled him in their admiration.
"Emily didn't play an instrument, was never in a band," drummer Jim Karstein said. "She was just attracted to the music and wanted to be around it all the time."
Emily "Sweet Emily" Smith Miller-Mundy, who as friend, confidante and mother-figure to many of Tulsa's best known musicians was able to achieve that proximity, died Friday. She was 69.
A memorial wake will be held later. Crown Hill Funeral Home handled Smith's cremation.
When Russell came home to Tulsa in 1972 and started a recording studio in a converted church, it stirred a lot of interest, creating new opportunities for local musicians. It also drew many of his famous industry friends to town.
Smith was witness to the entire madcap scene.
"Those were real prophetic years," she said in a 2011 Tulsa People article about Russell. "It was the best of times ... the best we ever had."
A daughter of the late A. Ray Smith, who owned the former Tulsa Oilers baseball team, Smith moved to Tulsa in 1959 and attended Holland Hall. That's where Karstein met her; he was playing in a band that did a show at the school.
In the 1960s, when Russell, Karstein and many other Tulsa musicians migrated to California, Smith went with them briefly. But Tulsa was home.
And her home was always open, said her sister, Cindy Stealey of Norman.
"You just never knew who you were going to find at Emily's," she said. "I dropped by every morning for coffee, and once, Leon was there playing the piano. She was pals with Eric Clapton."
Once, Smith hosted Caroline Kennedy, whom she had befriended through a mutual acquaintance.
However eminent the person whom Smith happened to be hanging with, it was easy to forget who was the celebrity, her sister said.
"When you were in Emily's presence, she just commanded attention," Stealey said. "People were in awe of her."
Smith, a native of Sullivan, Ind., owned the Shy Clown nightclub in Tulsa for several years. She closed it in 1987 and had another place on Cherry Street for a while, as well as a restaurant.
Friends say stories about her adventures are legion - and not all of them printable.
"I wish she would've written her memoirs. They would've been amazing," Stealey said.
In all her mixing and mingling with rock 'n' roll stars, Smith was able to score a few minutes of fame herself.
She appeared with Russell, Cocker and others in the 1971 music documentary "Mad Dogs & Englishmen."
And then there's her song. Russell recalled how he came to write it. He was in the studio recording an album, and Emily was there visiting.
"She had fallen asleep in the control room and was snoring. We had an idea to write a song about her and have it playing when she woke up," he said.
Smith loved the results, even adopting "Sweet Emily" as her moniker.
Smith's survivors include two siblings, Cindy Stealey and John Smith.
Original Print Headline: It was only rock 'n' roll, but she liked it
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
"Sweet Emily" Smith (left) was a close confidante to some of Tulsa's musical royalty, including Leon Russell (right), who wrote a song about her. Smith, 69, died Friday. Steve Todoroff Archives/Courtesy