Mr. Henry Smith drew upon a long life full of music and hard work for his presentations of African-American plantation songs, spirituals, work songs and stories. He started singing at age 14 in 1926, as a member of the Mansfield Quartet, a group which performed until the early 1980s.

He sang in other quartets during his stints with the Civilian Conservation Corps and the U.S. Army. Smith organized and performed with a number of church choirs in the Georgetown area and played guitar and harmonica as well.

Smith spent more than forty years as a longshoreman, during which time he learned a wide repertoire of work songs and waterfront lore. Smith retired in 1977 and spent much of his retirement sharing his knowledge of African-American song and history with school audiences, churches and community groups. He worked to preserve the history of life on the Sampit River by collecting photographs and other memorabilia.

Treasured by his community, he was known as “Georgetown’s Goodwill Ambassador” from his appearances at the Harborwalk Festival and Can-Am Days. Smith passed away in 2005. Smith received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1994.

Old Man River | Digital Traditions


Smith singing at the 1988 Harborwalk Festival in Georgetown, SC. Aired on "Midday 5" program with WCSC-TV in Charleston, South Carolina