Mr. Robert “Bob” Johnson Smitherman of Tala Drive, and formerly of Winston-Salem, passed away Monday, June 17, 2019 at Atrium Health-Concord.
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A service to celebrate his life will be 1 PM Saturday 6/29/2019 at Wilkinson Funeral Home Chapel officiated by Pastor Jacqueline Roper. The family will welcome friends at a repast following the service at The Courtyard Marriott, 7201 Scott Padgett Pkwy., Concord, NC 28027.
Train-up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Robert “Bob” Johnson Smitherman was born on Monday November 21, 1938 in Selma, Alabama to John U. Smitherman, a grocery store owner and Helena Mae Lynn Smitherman, a school teacher. Selma is a city in and the county seat of Dallas County, in the Black Belt region of south central Alabama and extending to the west and located on the banks of the Alabama River. The city is best known for the 1960s Selma Voting Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery marches, beginning with “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965. It is from this city, rich in history on the banks of the Alabama River that Robert grew and flourished. From playing cowboys and Indians with his neighborhood friends, excelling in school and skipping the 7th grade to riding a bike route to deliver groceries from his father’s grocery store, “Fancy Meats and Grocery”, at the age of nine Robert was determined to succeed. Selma was also the city where Robert found his first love, Music. Robert was raised in the Baptist church he would walk over a mile to church with his father who was a trustee to open the church and start the fire if it was cold and was a dedicated volunteer in any capacity, but his favorite activity in church was singing in the choir. As Roberts love for music grew he took piano and flute lessons weekly and learned to read notes and fell in love with a new sound, Jazz. He first heard the music of the masters (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others) over “SNUG” Anderson’s radio broadcast from Montgomery, Alabama. It was at the Selma Elks Club that he heard the Count Basie Orchestra featuring its new vocalist, Joe Williams. As Roberts love for music grew so did the racial tension in Selma which shook the south in the mid 1950’s. His father’s store, “Fancy Meats and Grocery” which served many in the community was forced to close and the Smitherman family sought a new start in Detroit, Michigan. Once there, Robert continued his studies at the Charles Coleman School of music with pianist Harold McKinney, guitarist Teddy Harris and music theory at the Detroit Institute of Music. Robert also graduated high school at the age of 16 and attended Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee for two years where he played point guard on the basketball team. He later transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit, Michigan known as the motor city and the home of Motown was a perfect fit for Robert’s love of music. Robert found himself immersed in the soulful sounds of the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, “The Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes and many others and also found his way playing the trumpet behind them as well. “Smitty” was the name they gave him, and instead of just listening to the radio to hear the Motown groove he was right there with them making music history. Robert continued to play the trumpet for Motown throughout his college matriculation and later graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor degree in Music Education.
The steps of good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. Psalms Chapter 37 23-24
Robert was not only successful as a musician but also as a businessman. In 1966 he decided to apply for a salesmen position with RJ Reynolds the largest Tobacco Company, at the time, in the United States. In order to get the position he had to take a placement test which included complicated math problems about product inventory. Because of his years working for his father at, “Fancy Meats and Grocery” doing inventory Robert scored the highest ever scored on the placement test, and within 3 years he was promoted as the only African American person to be Assistant Division Manager. In this position he trained Salesmen for their assignments in his East Detroit, Michigan, Division. Robert continued to flourish and within 1 year was living in Yonkers, NY and was promoted to Division Manager of the Fort Apache New York Division where he taught himself Spanish in order to better communicate with the many Spanish speaking store owners in his assigned area. From there blessings continued to flow and he was promoted again 1 year later to Vice President of Marketing/Special Events and was transferred to the RJ Reynolds home office in Winston Salem, NC. Robert worked for RJ Reynolds for 21 years and retired in 1987 at the age of 47.
Above all things music and business Robert was a family man. On July 12, 1958 Robert “Tony” Anthony Smitherman was born. On October 30, 1966 Debra Lynn Smitherman (Pauling) was born and on June 27, 1985 Narissa Bernadette Smitherman (Roper) was born. In 1992 Robert and Rhonda adopted Venus Smitherman and their family was complete. He was always active in his children’s lives from attending and coaching basketball games, track meets, and band concerts; to helping with homework and giving advice, Robert was always there and available to guide his children. Like his Father he was a spiritual leader, making sure his children knew the power of God and His Grace and Mercy. He was an active member of Grace Lutheran Church (Pastor Fred Hedt) in Concord, NC for 15 years where he was a Sunday school teacher for the teenagers of the church as well as a Trustee. He later was a member of Green Street Methodist Church (Reverend Kelly P. Carpenter) in Winston, Salem NC where he was a member of the choir for 3 years, and recently became a member of Morning Star A.M.E Zion Church (Pastor Jacqueline Roper) in Monroe, NC. Robert was also an amazing and supportive husband and partner. He married Rhonda Bernadette Baldwin (Smitherman) on June 27th 1982 at their home in Mt. Pleasant, NC. They were together for 45 years.
Other accomplishments Include:
Owner/Performer, In-Focus Jazz Night Club; Charlotte, NC
Co-Founder Houlston Scholarship Fund at Grace Lutheran Church; Concord NC
Performed at the Spoleto Festival with the Unifour Jazz Ensemble
Performed at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival, “Lellis” in Detriot, MI with the Roy Brooks Trio
A member of the Charlotte and Winston-Salem Jazz Societies
He also performed at Appalachian State University and conducted a Jazz workshop for high school students at RB Hudson High School in Selma, Alabama
Robert is survived by his wife, Rhonda Bernadette Smitherman; daughters, Debra Pauling and husband Kevin of Winston-Salem, Narissa Roper and husband Kenneth of Charlotte, NC, and Venus Smitherman of Fayetteville, NC; Sister Joan Hervey of Winston Salem, NC; Niece, Tracy Nicholson and Great Niece, Geneva Nicholson of Winston-Salem, NC; Grandchildren, Candice Kelly and husband Antonio Kelly of Winston-Salem, NC, Anthony Smitherman, Amber Smitherman, Jasmine Belk, Jahria Pauling, and Natalia Justice; Great Grandchildren, Antonio Kelly Jr., Alijah Kelly, and Avaela Kelly; Mother-in-Law Hattie Baldwin, and Daughter-in-Law Jeanette Smitherman; He is preceded in death by his son Robert “Tony” Anthony Smitherman, and his youngest sister Edith Robinson.