Master DJ Tony Smith Now Mixing Music In Heaven
Tony Smith – born “Harvey Vance Smith” at Beekman hospital in New York City on Dec. 5, 1954 – spent a lifetime sharing his musical gifts and talents ultimately fulfilling his purpose as a world-famous DJ. Unexpectedly on May 1, 2021, Tony peacefully departed this life after experiencing lung cancer and pneumonia. He was preceded in death by his beloved mother Elaine V. Smith and older brother, James H. Smith, Jr. Among other family members, he is survived by his loving husband, Mike Greenly, his two older sisters, Carolyn Jackson and Toy Mabin (late Fred), plus his nieces and nephews whom he adored: Hakim Bey (Brenda), Tamarra Davis (Warren), Nathaniel Mabin, Crystal Mabin, James L. Smith, (Alfreda), David Jackson, Min. Niya Spencer (late Min. Michael) and Luis Quiles (Diana) whom he loved like his son.
Tony discovered his passion for music early on in life. He grew up with his family in the Alfred E. Smith housing projects on the lower east side of Manhattan. Family nights often included listening to music and dancing the night away. Tony had a special love of Motown and the music from the 1950s and ’60s which he often enjoyed with his siblings and first cousins, Renee Seabrook (late) and Diane Edwards (late.) By age 15, he had formed his own music collaboration with other DJs and dancers. He received his first gig as a professional Club DJ at the age of 19. No matter what was on his busy schedule, Tony ensured that he was available to DJ for the Annual Smith Reunion every summer as his childhood community was very special to him.
During his time on earth, Tony lured happy audiences out onto the dance floor in such Manhattan hotspots as Xenon and the Funhouse. He spun records virtually unheard before he played them at the Discos, helping them become true hits. Tony even played the opening night of the Palladium with John “Jellybean” Benitez. During the heyday of dance music – Disco was only one subset – and well before the internet, social media, and digital socializing, Tony was on the scene … creating memorable and moving mixes that kept happy dancers out on the floor.
Tony Smith saw it all as far the club scene went. He was known around the world for helping Disco music become a global force. Anchoring his world to the rest of us for the past decade was his Sirius X-M Satellite Radio show. It was digitally broadcast weekly, during which he honored much of what defines him through music. His one-hour show — “Classic Beats and Rhythms” on Channel 54 (named after the famous dance club, Studio 54) — generated an ardent following on Facebook and other social media sites. His fans and followers tuned in every Thursday night at 9 pm EST to hear, share and re-live some of the music he had played with such skill and finesse during Disco’s golden years. His Facebook fans happily dubbed themselves the “Smithettes.”
His sets were quite diverse, with tracks ranging from the history of R&B, music from New York’s hip hop community, Caribbean ethnic beats, blasts from the best of 1980s New Wave and on through the history of music.
Tony was a successful music producer, too, creating and remixing songs as “Tony’s Soulbeats” with many famous artists from their own musical worlds. He held DJ Guest Spots across the globe, playing for diverse crowds in London, Paris, and across the USA.
By 1972, the newest sounds of Disco were not being heard on the radio but in dance clubs, where DJs chose what the crowd would experience. No one could hear the complete version of Eddie Kendricks’ “Girl You Need a Change of Mind” on radio stations. Those DJs were only allowed to broadcast the three-minute “radio version.” But the DJ in a Disco could play the full 7:33-length original and better yet, watch the crowd dancing to it. Discos were becoming launch pads for this new form of music, leading people to buy them at record stores. DJs were taste-makers. New York was their hub but cities like Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Montreal, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. followed NYC’s lead.
Rolling Stone magazine’s Vince Aletti wrote the first report on Disco in 1973. He also wrote a weekly column about this new form of music for Record World in which he often reported on Tony Smith’s latest playlists. By 1974, the new form of music had become such a “thing” that WPIX-FM launched the first Disco radio show where, for example, you could hear the full-length version of Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough’. In 1976, Tony was cited by Billboard as one of the Top 10 DJs in the country.
As music evolved, Tony turned to his other passion, movies. He went to technical school to learn how to repair VCRs since video cassettes had become huge. Eventually, he and his brother James fulfilled their dream to become entrepreneurs as the first black owners of a Manhattan video store which they aptly named Tompkins Square Video after the community in which it was founded. Friends in the music business (then and now) – Danny Krivit, Claudia Cuseta, and Bobby Shaw – kept him in touch with the latest music.
The video store was successful for a decade (1989 -1999) but by the time its lease was up, his beloved mother had suffered a stroke along with other serious health issues. Tony did not hesitate to selflessly serve as his mother’s full-time caretaker. He deeply felt it was the least he could do for the woman who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much. During some of those years, he kept himself in the game by DJ’ing on weekends at the Union Square Lounge in Manhattan.
Elaine Smith passed away in 2007 which was a devasting blow to Tony. His passion for music still gnawed at him even though he had taken this decade-long hiatus. He returned to the music industry full-time, trademarking his brand as “Tony’s Soulbeats” — producing and remixing songs for artists like Kimberly Davis, Jason Walker, and Shara Strand. He worked with music icons in their fields like dance producer, Tony Moran; choral composer, Jim Papoulis and musician-composer, Paul Guzzone. In 2018, Tony was one of the first honorees to receive the Legends of Vinyl DJ Hall of Fame Award [tm] presented by founder Luis Mario to a gathering of music professionals who praised him throughout the night.
Record label owner/partner Curtis Urbina, who had known Tony for decades, considered him a rare talent. Urbina once described Tony’s work on Sirius XM Radio as that of a Master Music Curator since he did so much to help people re-Discover Disco hits from the past and bring new value to them.
Once news of Tony Smith’s, passing hit the internet, fans across the world began to mourn the loss. On Facebook and other social media sites, they actively swapped memories of the musical icon.
The funeral service will be held on Monday, May 10, 2021. A limited number of family members will be attending in person. However, his Celebration of Life service will also be viewable via Zoom. His interment will be at Rosedale Cemetery in Linden, NJ next to his beloved mother, Elaine.