R.I.P Jimmy Smith (1953-2020)

Jimmy Smith, a comedian and musician who hosted the Comedy Connection open mic during the Boston comedy boom of the early 1980s and who himself opened for some of the biggest names in music for 30 years, died on March 11. Smith was 66.

In June 2017, when Smith’s diabetes and other health issues were incurring major medical debts, his Boston comedy friends had rallied for a benefit show in his honor. Among them, Lenny Clarke, Tony V., Mike Donovan, Mike McDonald, Christine Hurley and Jack Gallagher. Jimmy Tingle hosted that benefit.

Here’s Smith’s full obituary, from Tingle:

The world lost a giant of a human being this past week. Jimmy Albert Smith, Jr was born in Cambridge, MA on August 14, 1953, to James and Evonon Smith.  Jimmy graduated from Cambridge High School and Latin High School in 1972, and later studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Upon graduation in 1972, this talented young man was wisely hired by the Cambridge Music Department where he taught music for 43 years. A beloved teacher and mentor, he positively impacted the lives of hundreds of students over the years. His funny, supportive and outgoing personality made him a favorite among students and faculty alike regardless of whether he was teaching, singing, performing, directing student musicals or leading the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Band during football games. He retired from Cambridge Schools in 2015.

In the early 1980s, Jimmy turned to performing comedy. At the Comedy Connection in Boston, he co-hosted an open mic night with fellow Boston comedian Jack Gallagher. A typical open mic lineup at the Comedy Connection would include Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Denis Leary, Bobcat Goldthwait, Steve Sweeney, Barry Crimmins, Lenny Clarke and many more young comics who later became household names, both locally and nationally. As a young comic working his way up the comedy ladder from open mic performer to headlining clubs and colleges all over New England, he credited his success to the support and advice he got from fellow comics and booking agents Paul Barkley and Billy Downes of The Comedy Connection.

Jimmy was a consummate entertainer, both gracious and collaborative. He could sing, scat like the wind, dance, compose music, and write and perform original comedic monologues. His charismatic stage persona exuded warmth and charm, and he was an instant crowd pleaser. The first time he performed at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, he received a standing ovation.

He was a mainstay on the Boston and New England comedy and music scenes for over 30 years, opening for such national acts as Ray Charles, Roberta Flack, The Smothers Brothers, Grace Jones, Kool and the Gang, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stephanie Mills and many more. 

As a singer, percussionist and trombone player for the Chris Rhodes Band, Jimmy opened for Bette Midler, DR John, The Chambers Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and many other marquee performers.

Over the last decade, Jimmy battled diabetes, heart and kidney disease, amputation of both legs and a host of other medical issues that greatly limited his physical mobility. Nevertheless, he displayed great strength, courage and optimism, and stayed active to the utmost of his ability. He performed regularly with Cambridge’s Erie Blue band, treating audiences to his upbeat vocals, musical expertise and on-stage improvisational antics. 

Jimmy Smith passed away quietly on March 11, 2020, at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, surrounded by family and friends.  “If his body was as strong as his spirit” his brother Steven said of him, “he would have lived for a thousand years. He had to face the ultimate decision a human can face and taught his final lesson.”  

Jimmy is survived by his loving wife Susan Dong Smith of Cambridge, brother Steven Smith and sister-in-law Darlene Smith of Groveland, aunt Marcia Hamilton of Cambridge, and a host of extended family and friends.

Jimmy will be interred with his mother and father at Cambridge Cemetery in Cambridge at a private graveside service.  Given the heightened awareness of the Corona virus, the Smith family will take all necessary precautions to ensure the services are as safe as possible.  Please take comfort in knowing that your love, friendship, and prayers are felt even without your physical presence. 

A larger memorial and celebration of his life is being planned for later this year. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Jimmy’s memory to The American Diabetes Association.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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