Memories of Roy Smeck by Betty Comora


Betty Comora remembers Ukulele Hero Roy Smeck

Betty Comora is an international entertainer specialising in the music of the jazz age... see her website:

Sarasota musician Betty Comora has very kindly sent this touching remeniscence of the great ukulele hero Roy Smeck - a wonderful insight into his character...

'About thirty years ago I was performing in local clubs with a banjo player, Earl Dow, who lived in Fairlawn, New Jersey. He was taking lessons from Roy Smeck in New York City and invited me to come for a lesson to meet the legendary musician. I went and was fascinated by Roy, who took every opportunity to show off his abilities to a newcomer! He showed me the routine where he played his ukulele fast and furiously and ended by "paddling down the river" with the uke as a paddle. Simultaneously, he played a tune on the harmonica - AND with his flexible tongue, he flipped the harmonica around back to front, so that he alternately exhaled and inhaled to keep the tune going. AMAZING! I guess it gave a new meaning to The Music Goes Round and Round!!

He then proceeded to show me his album of very impressive credits, which included playing for the Queen of England. He noted a few newspaper stories which described an illicit love affair that he was entangled in. Whispering, he asked me not to mention to his wife (in the kitchen ) that he had shown me these pages!

Earl and I were scheduled to play free at Bergen Pines Hospital in Paramus, NJ (near my home). Earl mentioned it to Roy who readily offered to play it with us. I was stunned! I told him we weren't getting paid for it, but he was glad to do it - as long as Earl picked him up and brought him home. Well, we played for the chronic illness wing and the people had a real treat. Roy remenisced about his radio show, which many of them remembered.

After the performance, we went to a neighbouring restaurant where we jammed for over three hours - I finally had to leave, but Roy and Earl continued on...!

Around that time I was the vocalist with the Speakeasy Jazz Babies at the Red Blazer in NYC. I knew the audience would love to see Roy, so I invited him and his wife to be my guests there, and offered to send a cab for them. However, Roy's back was severely hunched over, and his reply was, "Not until my back's straightened! I don't want the audience to see me this way". I thought that was just the saddest thing for him to say... Of course, his back never improved'.

Thanks, Betty, for a great article! Can anyone else send us memories of their ukulele heroes?