Most legends have at least a partial basis in fact, and that would appear to be the case with Whispering Jack Smith, a crooner who flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. But even though his soft baritone singing voice was a little unusual, it’s not clear whether it was really caused — so the story went — by his exposure to gas in World War I trenches. Still, when coupled with his warm, intimate singing style, it certainly helped build his fame during an era that saw most of his contemporaries belting it out as if on a vaudeville stage.
A native New Yorker, Jacob J. Schmidt was born and raised in the Bronx. After his war-time service — which apparently did include combat, complete with gas — he began working in New York for Irving Berlin’s Music Company, singing and playing piano in various locales to help promote songs. By the early 1920s he had worked his way into some musical spots on radio, and a couple of years later he got the opportunity to make some records too.
One factor in his new success was that the equipment used — especially the microphone — was in the midst of a period of innovation, one that allowed Smith’s gentle voice to compete with others. It wasn’t long before he was making quite a name for himself and winning a lot of fans. Often billed as ‘Jack Smith – The Whispering Baritone’ on his records, he also began appearing on stage for appreciative audiences in both New York and London. His smooth and warm persona made him a crowd favorite, and he soon became an international star.
For the rest of the decade and on into the 1930s Smith was a very popular entertainer, with a number of best-selling records on songs like “Cecilia,” “Me And My Shadow,” and “Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?.” Like many other singing stars he also made several appearances in early sound movies, but as the years passed his style of music became less popular with fans. Although he kept working well into the 1940s, his star inevitably faded. When he died from a heart attack in 1951, he was just in his early fifties. (Sources vary on his DOB.)