Annette Smason, music maven of Smith’s Records, succumbs in Dallas
ANNETTE SMITH SMASON, the music maven of Smith’s Records, who helped transform a small card and gift shop into one of the best-stocked and highly-regarded record stores in the nation, passed away on Sunday, September 19 in a Dallas hospice facility after a long illness. Mrs. Smason, who was a native and lifelong New Orleanian had been evacuated to Dallas following the passage of Hurricane Ida. She was 89.
With her brother Irvin, “Miss Annette” grew up in the shadow of the adjacent Jerusalem Shrine Temple building on St. Charles Avenue in rooms situated above her family’s original pharmacy, Smith’s Drug Store, in close proximity to what would become the Pontchartrain Expressway.
A music lover from childhood, she became a gifted musician herself, playing the trumpet and ascending to first trumpet at Eleanor McMain High School and later played with the Purple Jackets at LSU while in college. In her senior year, she transferred to Tulane University, where she studied business.
She married optometrist Dr. Arnold Smason and a few years afterward began operating with her brother what would become Smith’s Record Store next to the Pontchartrain Hotel. Her expertise in opera and classical music eventually gained the store a national following. Among their many famous customers were novelist Anne Rice, Broadway composer and opera enthusiast John Kander and Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim.
“Miss Annette” was a personal friend of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, who invited her to join him in his dressing room prior to one of his performances at Covent Garden in London.
By the early 1960s, Irvin Smith and Annette and Arnold Smason founded S&S Productions, the most well-known concert promoters in New Orleans until the early 1970s. They brought many of their shows to the Loyola Field House, Municipal Auditorium and City Park Stadium. Some of these included Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Johnny Rivers and Sly and the Family Stone.
Mrs. Smason was an avid traveler. Along with her husband, she visited over 180 different countries and all seven continents. She traveled on more than 130 Crystal Cruises, her favorite cruise liner. Among her favorite places to visit were Venice and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Another of her enduring loves was Carnival. She joined the Krewe of Venus, the city’s first parading women’s krewe, as a rider in their 1955 parade. In the 1960s she became a float lieutenant and eventually rose to be an officer of the krewe. When the krewe disbanded in 1992, she was its senior officer.
In 1994 she contacted the Krewe of Okeanos and proposed she provide riders for a female sub-krewe composed of former Venus members, friends and family. She formed the Krewe of Anubis, named for an earlier krewe of the 1920s associated with pharmacists like her parents, and rode in 1995 and for several years thereafter on the same Sunday with the same floats Okeanos had rented to the former Krewe of Venus.
A patron of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, she kept several lithographs of his work on display at the record store. She commissioned several original works by Mr. Hirschfeld and even posed privately for him in his New York studio for an original pen and ink drawing of her own visage.
Mrs. Smason was predeceased by both her daughter-in-law Sally Sobel Smason and her husband of 42 years, Dr. Arnold Smason, in 1995.
She was a lifetime member of Hadassah and Congregation Beth Israel, where her grandfather had been an early member.
She is survived by her children, CCJN editor Alan Smason and former CCJN advertising director Arlene Wieder (Douglas); three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
A celebration of her life was held at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Boulevard on Monday, September 20 at 2 p.m. Services will be officiated by Rabbi Joshua Pernick with assistance by Rabbi David Posternock, both of Congregation Beth Israel. Interment followed at (Old) Beth Israel Cemetery, 4321 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA. Due to current COVID restrictions, all attendees are requested to be vaccinated and to wear masks both indoors and at graveside. A Zoom link will be provided on request through Congregation Beth Israel.
Memorial donations in her honor are suggested to the Zachor (Remember) Fund maintained by the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana and to Congregation Beth Israel, 4004 W. Esplanade Avenue S, Metairie, LA. 70002.