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HILL, ARGOLDA VONCILE [GOLDIE]

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HILL, ARGOLDA VONCILE [GOLDIE] (1933–2005). Goldie Hill, born Argolda Voncile Hill, was a Texas-born country music singer frequently billed as “The Golden Hillbilly” (and in her later career as “Goldie Hill Smith”). She was one of the first female country music singers to make Billboard's Top 10 charts in the early 1950s and was a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride as well as a performer and member of the Grand Ole Opry. She was also the second wife of country music star Carl Smith.

Goldie Hill was born on January 11, 1933, in Karnes County, Texas, to John Thomas (J. T.) and Effie May (Davis) Hill. She was the only girl and the youngest of four children. Hill spent her early life in rural Texas and picked cotton alongside her older brothers on their parents' cotton farm. By the mid-1940s her older brothers Kenny and Tommy determined to try their luck making music and secured positions playing in nearby San Antonio as “The Texas Hillbillies,” vocally and instrumentally backing up Red River Dave McEnery and country singer Weldon E. Lister, better known as six-foot-seven “Big Bill” Lister, “Radio's Tallest Singing Cowboy.” During their stint with Lister, music and comedy performer Smiley Burnette discovered the pair and invited them to California to become singing cowboy extras on some of his films. The venture was not successful for Tommy and Kenny, however, so they returned to Texas the following year and resumed their musical endeavors.

Upon their return, seventeen-year-old Goldie began to attend their shows and occasionally joined them on vocals. Kenny and Tommy began to make connections with more established musicians who toured through the San Antonio area, and by 1951 Tommy Hill had obtained a position as the fiddle player in Louisiana Hayride star Webb Pierce's regular band. It is Pierce, along with her brother Tommy, to whom Goldie Hill attributed her “official” start as a country music singer. In a 1988 interview with disc jockey Tracy Pitcox, Hill recounted the experience. “It was actually 1952, and my brother Tommy Hill was working with Webb Pierce. Kitty Wells had come out with her records and had something pretty good, and Webb decided he needed a girl singer in the band. My brother said, ‘I got a little sister at home.’ He gave me a call and said, ‘Do you want to sing?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’"

Goldie Hill was nineteen years old and had been working for IBM in San Antonio, but she joined the band immediately and, billed as “The Golden Hillbilly,” began to perform frequently on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride. In June 1952 she traveled with her brother and the band to Nashville to try her hand at recording on Decca Records (Pierce's record label).

In the wake of Kitty Wells's success with the hit answer song “It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” to Hank Thompson's “Wild Side of Life,” Hill's first release was a single entitled “Why Talk to My Heart,” an answer song to Ray Price's “Talk to Your Heart,” which was a current hit on the Billboard country charts. It was not a successful single, but she tried again shortly afterward. “Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” was a 1952 hit song penned by country star Slim Willet. Willet, Ray Price, and Skeets McDonald had all recorded versions of the song, and all versions charted on Billboard in 1952 (later in the year, Perry Como's pop version would prove an even bigger hit). On the heels of its success, Slim Willet and Tommy Hill decided to collaborate and wrote an answer song intended for Kitty Wells to sing. However, Goldie Hill recorded “I Let the Stars Get in My Eyes” before Wells could, and soon enough, the “Golden Hillbilly” became the second female country star to hit the Billboard Top 10 country charts (preceded only by Wells).

By September 1953 Hill made Nashville her permanent home and made the shift from regularly appearing on the Louisiana Hayride to performing on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. She appeared regularly on the Opry from 1953 to early 1957 and as a guest star on several country music television shows (such as Country Tune Parade). During these years she continued to record, releasing several full-length albums on the Decca label and garnering a number of country hits, such as “I’m the Loneliest Gal in Town,” and duets with Justin Tubb (“Looking Back to See” and “Sure Fire Kisses” ) and Red Sovine (“Are You Mine?”).

During the course of her career Hill had repeatedly encountered Carl Smith, a young country music singer and songwriter who would eventually become her husband. Smith was married to June Carter with whom he fathered a daughter, Carlene. He had left the Grand Ole Opry in 1956 to pursue a brief career as an actor and singer for some Hollywood Westerns, but he returned to Nashville in early 1957 and subsequently joined a tour sponsored by Phillip Morris. His marriage with June Carter had deteriorated, and their divorce in early 1957 dovetailed with Goldie Hill's departure from the Opry, as she joined Carl Smith as an addition to the Phillip Morris tour. Smith and Hill married on September 19, 1957, and Carl Jr., Lori Lynn, and Larry Dean were born in quick succession. The three children were raised on the Smiths’ ranch just south of Nashville, during which Smith would spend as much time as possible with the family between his tours and other music engagements (which lasted well into the 1970s).

From 1957 through 1968, Goldie Hill pursued music to a much lesser extent, choosing instead to concentrate on raising a family. She gave almost no live performances after 1957 but continued to record sporadically. In 1959 she charted once on another duet with Red Sovine (“Yankee Go Home”), and in 1961 “Lonely Heartaches” was a minor hit. Every year or two during the early 1960s, Hill would release new recordings, and in the late 1960s, she made stronger attempts at reviving her career. She signed with the Epic label and recorded two albums—Goldie Sings Again (1968) and The Country Gentleman’s Lady Sings Her Favorites (1969). Her song “Lovable Fool” briefly entered the charts in 1968. But as her husband Carl Smith’s long, illustrious career began to wind down, both he and Hill became more involved in ranch life. Smith, already an avid horseman, raised quarter horses for many years and later embarked on a minor second career with “cutting” (an equestrian sporting event where riders on quarter horses compete to separate a cow from a herd).

Hill and Smith lived out the remainder of their years on the Smith ranch with their family. Goldie Hill died in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 24, 2005, after a long bout with cancer. She was buried in Williamson Memorial Gardens in Franklin, Tennessee. Carl Smith died in 2010.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K.Oermann, Finding Her Voice: The Illustrated History of Women in Country Music (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1995). Nathan D. Gibson with Don Pierce, The Starday Story: The House that Country Music Built (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2011). Edward Morris, “Goldie Hill, ‘The Golden Hillbilly,’ Dead at 72,” CMT News, February 25, 2005 (http://www.cmt.com/news/country-music/1497490/goldie-hill-the-golden-hillbilly-dead-at-72.jhtml), accessed April 26, 2011. Tracy Pitcox, Legendary Conversations—With a Texas Disc Jockey (Brady, Texas: Heart of Texas Country, 2007). The Independent (London), March 8, 2005.

Caroline Gnagy

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Caroline Gnagy, "Hill, Argolda Voncile [Goldie]," accessed December 10, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhi73.

Uploaded on September 15, 2014. Modified on October 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.