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Myrna Smith obituary

Written by admin on December 26, 2010 – 7:52 am -

Myrna Smith sadly passed away yesterday from kidney failure aged 69. The American singer was a member of the female vocal group the Sweet Inspirations, who were best known for their work with Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. Myrna is the second of the Sweet Inspirations to pass away this year. Sylvia Shemwell died on February 13, 2010. Myrna Smith

The Sweet Inspirations had evolved from the Gospelaires group, whose members had included Myrna’s cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, Doris Troy and Judy Guions (later Judy Clay). The group were in demand for session work with many great artists, including Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett and the Drifters. Myrna replaced Dee Dee in 1965 after she left to pursue a solo career, and Estelle Brown also joined around the same time. Dionne and Doris were replaced by Cissy Houston and Sylvia Shemwell, respectively.

The Sweet Inspirations - Sweet Inspiration In 1967, the group was signed to Atlantic as the Sweet Inspirations. Their first release was a cover of “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)” and it was a top 40 hit on the R&B charts.

The groups most successful song was “Sweet Inspiration”, which was cut during a two-day session at American Sound in Memphis in August 1967. The track hit number five on the R&B chart and was a top 20 pop hit.

The Sweet Inspirations – “Sweet Inspiration”

The Sweet Inspirations continued to work as sessions singers during this period, appearing on classic cuts by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin (“Chain of Fools”), Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”), Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp”).

Aretha Franklin (and the Sweet Inspirations) – “Chain of Fools”

In 1969, Myrna began her eight-year association with Elvis Presley when the Sweet Inspirations were chosen as his opening act and backing singers for his engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The Sweet Inspirations appeared with Elvis in more than 1,000 concerts and featured in the concert movies “That’s the Way It Is” and “Elvis On Tour”, as well as the television specials “Aloha from Hawaii” and “Elvis in Concert.” In the video below, they are performing with Elvis on one of his biggest songs. Myrna Smith

Elvis Presley – “Suspicious Minds” (1970)

Myrna was still making records with the Sweet Inspirations during her period with Elvis, but with limited commercial success. However, following Elvis’ tragic death, they did back Frankie Valli on his number one single “Grease.” They also toured with the Bee Gees and released the disco album “Hot Butterfly” in this period, but with the record achieving limited success the group decided to break up.

After years apart, the Sweet Inspirations reformed in 1994 and continued to perform up until recently. The Elvis association in particular assured them regular work, including touring with the “Elvis: The Concert” show, which features Elvis on screen and his original backing band playing live. I saw this show in 2001 and the Sweets were a highlight of the evening.

Sweet Inspirations - In The Right Place In 2005, the Sweet Inspirations released “In The Right Place”, which was their first solo recording in 25 years. The 15-track album featured a number of new songs and a great new recording of their biggest hit “Sweet Inspiration.”

Myrna was joined on “In the Right Place” by Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Portia Griffin.

Myrna developed pneumonia while on tour in Europe with “Elvis: The Concert” in March of this year. She subsequently suffered from kidney failure and a severe stroke. Myrna spent her last weeks at the Canyon Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park, California.

Myrna was a great soul singer whose voice was featured on some of the finest records of the second half of the 20th century. She was also an important part of Elvis’ stage act and, by all accounts, a warm and friendly person. She will be missed.


The Sweet Inspirations – "In the Right Place" (MP3)

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Posted in Elvis, Obituaries, Soul |


22 Comments to “Myrna Smith obituary”

  1. Rock Says:

    Very sad! But thanks for posting this, it had a lot of information I wasn’t aware of.

    Rock The Jukebox

  2. Can Balkan Says:

    I am so sad. I was thinking of sending a card to her to say that whenever she feels fine, she has a home in Istanbul Tukey. I am 29 and I was fortunate to see her live and other members many times. Thanks Myrna for everything Estelle Brown must be devastated.

  3. Ann Dandridge Says:

    My friend Myrna Smith is gone! What a fine person she was, we will Truly miss her!

  4. Jerome "Stump" Monroe Says:

    Myrna was my girl, she took care of the band members in the Sweet Inspirations, and also when the group was part of the Elvis Show I will miss her and Love her very much. Rest in peace my friend Jerome Stump Monroe

  5. Keith Lopez Says:

    Thank you for all of the memories and may you rest in peace Ms. Myrna Smith




    i did’nt know her( ms.smith).. but i do remember the sweet inspirations.. they had beautiful voices. and great music.. RIP MS.SMITH.. another great voice singing in Heaven….

  8. Steven Escobar Says:

    Myrna Smith Rest In Peace and please see our coverage on Diversity News. We are waiting for her brother John to contact us.

  9. Dr. John Carpenter Says:

    A beautiful testimony to a beautiful life. Thank you for sharing her story with the world. You didn’t need to be a fan of Elvis Presley to appreciate the talent, soulfulness and beauty of Myrna and the Sweet Inspirations. Good-bye Myrna, we will miss you.

  10. Ruth Shephard Says:

    I was praying so hard for you to make it Myrna. I have met you and sat and chatted with you a few times and you have always been so gracious and warm to me. I am the lucky one who wears your TLC from Elvis and I will always cherish it and take care of it for you. God Bless You. We will miss you so much. xxoo

  11. Paul, Milena, Jobyna Casey Says:

    Myrna will be missed. she was a beautiful person, with a smile that would warm your heart. I worked with her, Estelle and Portia for several years. I will always have fond memories. God bless you Myrna Smith…you are loved, Paul

  12. martin smith Says:

    To all the fans of my mother Myrna Smith,

    I wanted to give you all a great big THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for all that you did for my mother. Not only when she was ill, but all the support you gave her during the years of touring, as well as, listening and purchasing her music. Many of you followed her closely and she loved you for that.

    My mother was a wonderful lady. My life with her will never be forgotten. I have watched my mom from day one of her time with Elvis and the people from Graceland, showing many people what a great entertainer should project. My mom, although had friends by her side all the way to the end, always understood our special relationship. I will always love and respect my mother for who she is and what she became. Her grandson had the opportunity to sit with his Grandmother long before she became too ill and shared with her his aspirations to follow her entertainment footsteps.

    Thank you all for the respect while the family was grieving and we appreciate your well wishes and condolences. I have included the memorial information below and would love to hear from you or see you there.

    For people who cannot make it to the memorial, we will be taking all emails and posting them at the memorial for people to read. We may even read a few there.


    Martin Smith

    Myrna’s Memorial:

    First Christian Church of North Hollywood
    4390 Colfax Ave.
    North Hollywood, CA 91604
    (please send flowers directly to the church)

    Please RSVP at

    Time: 11:00 AM – 1:00PM
    Date: 1/29/2010

    Refreshment will follow.

    We appreciate the fans that had done so much for Myrna and a special thank you to Carole Drexler who has been a valuable friend of the family.

  13. Celeste Shemwell Says:

    Martin,I am so sorry to hear that your mom who was basicly my anntie has passed and i was not able to see her and tell her how much i loved her. she has always been apart of my life, since birth.I Can say i know what it is that you are going though. I too, sad, to say am still fighting with my grief althgough a year has almost pasted. It has not yet really become reality for me.I did speak with your mom many times while she was in the nursing home. I will not forgive myself for not going right away.I JUST COULD NOT,lets just say would not believe that another loved one would be going home that soon after my mom.He only gives what a person can handle and i just knew i had reached that point.She knew i loved her. GOD BLESS HER. SHE CAN NOW SING WITH THEE ANGELS, WITH MOMMIE AND ELVIS. MY HUSBAND WHO YOU MET AT YOUR WEDDING. WISHES YOU AND YOURS ALL THE BEST. FROM ALL OF US. OUR PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS. MY EMAIL IS ABOVE I REALLY WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK WITH YOU. YOUR MOM HAD A PICTURE WALL DEAICATED TO THE SWEETS, WE MOVED ALOT I WOULD TRUELY APPRECIATE A FEW COPIES OF THE GROUP AND ELVIS AND WHAT YOU FEEL IS OKAY TO DUPICATE. MOM HAD THEM AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER I JUST WANT ALL THE MEMORIES I CAN PUT MY HANDS ON. SO WHEN AND IF YOU FEEL TO THIS PLEASE GIVE US A CALL OR EMAIL BLESS YOU. CELESTE SHEMWELL JOHNSON AND FAMILY 323-786-7415. IF KNOW ANWSER PLEASE TRY UNTIL YOU do. the number is majic jack connected to my computer. did not want to publish home number thank you.

  14. Donny Says:

    Myrna was my cousin and best friend. I feel the loss in my heart and soul. Always a loving and kind word. Always a positive person. We were very close and shared many personal and private things and I will miss the many times we spent together and our conversations. Myrna was so upbeat, never complained about anything. There is a void in my heart that cannot be filled. But I know Myrna is singing with GODs angels and I will see her again in Heaven. I can still hear her say “everythings gonna be alright.”

  15. Jeff Schrembs Says:

    I met Myrna backstage and she was very attractive but her intelligence and her presence was very flattering.
    She was gifted with a wonderful voice and she had her own religious interests but there was always something…calm about her. She was a wonderful woman and Elvis Fans Worldwide will miss her as I will each day of my life. THANK YOU for all you did.
    Jeffrey Schrembs, Elvis Presley Expert

  16. Michael Says:

    This is sad news. I go to look up a friend and this is what I find.
    I worked for Dionne Warwick in 90,91 and 92 and Myrna and I had a great time together.. She was fun, positive and thoughtful.
    At the hotels, she would call my room and tease me.
    One time in Europe, Liza Minnilli was staying at the same hotel and was down at bar (by the piano, of course!). Myrna took me over to meet her and introduced me.
    I can still hear Myrna’s voice and see her smile.
    Myrna was beautiful inside and out.
    What a light she is and I’m fortunate to have met someone as wonderful as her!

  17. Mike Says:

    If you want to see what a lovely person Myrna was, pick up the DVD, This Time, and go to the added features with Myrna and Estelle talking about their timee with Elvis.

  18. Alan Richards Says:

    I just saw the Judge Judy episode featuring beautiful Myrna vs her son and daughter-in-law. Myrna won, and quite rightly too!

    Lesson learned, I hope.

    RIP, Myrna.

  19. Rich Fiore Says:

    Myrna (at the time Mrs. Utley)was my 7th-grade English teacher at South Brunswick H.S in New Jersey from 1963-1964.
    I have kept a snapshot in my head of exactly what she looked like for almost a half-century now. She was a calm, smart, and classy lady. I remember being told from the girls in the classroom that she was one of the backing vocalists for Dionne Warwick on “Walk on By”. Later we heard that she left the school to pursue her singing career with the Sweet Inspirations. If you look at the Aretha Franklin Chain of Fools video above, from 1:23 – 1:29, the lady on the right, that’s exactly how I remember she looked.
    I have thought about Mrs. Utley occasionally over the years, but never really tried to find out what happened to her. This morning I was put on hold while on the phone, and “Walk on By” was on, and that was “the sign” I needed. I was saddened to read that she passed away last year, but it looks as though she had a very fulfilling life. Her spirit lives on in all of us whom she touched…

  20. George Atkins Says:

    1967 was the fist time I have heard the song: sweet inspiration, by The Sweet Inspirations. and I fell inlove with the song. I have never met Myrna, but I had wished I did. She were a beautiful lady just by looking at her pictures, especially in younger times backing the stars of yesteryear. Memories do linger, she was the type any body wants to meet. RIP sweet heart, I missed you too.

  21. George Atkins Says:

    I wanted to add, as well, that Slyvia’s passing had the same effect as Myrna Smith. I had never met either of these wonderful ladies, and so, I will missed Sylvia as much. However, I do regret Myrna Smith’s cremation instead of burial. Sylvia Shemwell’s obituary is unknown but I hoped she had a farewell funeral. Estelle is the only one left standing, and Cissy,I hpoe to meet them.

  22. Angela Sterritt Says:

    What a beautiful voice and a beautiful woman.

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