IRVIN SAMUEL SMITH, the retired proprietor of Smith’s Record Center and a concert promoter with S&S Productions, died after a long illness at his residence on Thursday, January 29. He was 92.
Although he was an attorney and maintained his status as a notary, Smith, a native New Orleanian, was known as an astute businessman with several ventures. He had previously worked as a manager of his father’s Smith’s Drug Store, located originally in the 1100 block of St. Charles Avenue and eventually moved to the 2000 block of St. Charles Avenue. He helped transform what was first an adjacent card and gift store into a very popular record store during the 1950s and early 1960s, a time when the New Orleans market was a major breakout center for national hits.
Following his graduation from Alcee Fortier High School, he attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he was president of the Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity. He began his studies at the Tulane School of Law, but they were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Smith served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war, stationed in Washington, D.C, where he received a commission. After his service, he returned to Tulane University and graduated from the Tulane University School of Law and was made a member of the Louisiana Bar.
But law was never his passion. He worked for a time at Smith’s Drug Store as a manager, but began to concentrate his energies on the record store. Eventually, he became president of Smith’s Record Centers at both Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie and the Plaza Shopping Center in New Orleans East. Both locations were closed by the early 1990s. Smith served as the president of the Lakeside Merchants Association.
He was involved for a time with the nascent music industry in New Orleans. Along with a partner, he was the owner of Instant Records. He was highly regarded by musicians and songwriters alike including Allen Toussaint and Mac Rebbenack (aka “Dr. John”) and achieved major success with hits by Chris Kenner (“I Like It Like That”) and others. Smith was given credit by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records as having been responsible for connecting Toussaint with Alpert, who recorded his song “Whipped Cream” and catapulted it into a major national hit with the Tijuana Brass.
Along with his sister, he helped promote some of the largest and best-loved concerts in New Orleans at venues like the Loyola Field House, the Municipal Auditorium and City Park Stadium. The list of concerts include Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Rivers, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck Trio, Johnny Mathis, Glen Campbell, the Supremes, Donovan, Vanilla Fudge, Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band, O.C. Smith, Sly and the Family Stone and Peter, Paul and Mary.
He was married for 57 years to the late Sara (née Baskind) Smith of Clarksdale, MS, whom he met at L.S.U. The two traveled widely and enjoyed membership at Touro Synagogue. Smith also maintained membership at Congregation Beth Israel throughout his lifetime. He was a lover of fine dining and enjoyed celebrating with friends, especially at favorite haunts in Fat City and more recently at 1179 Restaurant.
Smith was an early supporter and season ticket holder of the New Orleans Saints football team from its inception. He was also an active supporter of college football stalwarts L.S.U. and the Tulane Green Wave.
Smith is survived by his daughter Lesley Smith of Highland Beach, FL., his sister Annette Smith Smason, two grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.
Graveside services will be held on Sunday, February 1 at the Old Beth Israel Cemetery, 4221 Frenchmen Street at 11:00 a.m. Rabbis Gabriel Greenberg and David Posternock will both conduct the service.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested to the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana or the charity of your choice.