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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Howard


Most of my stories are about Harlan Howard, and though Harlan is involved in this story; he is not the central figure. In the early 2000’s, Dan Rather, wanted to do a story on Harlan for 60 Minutes. The producers that worked for him scheduled time to come to Nashville to shoot “B roll” film for the segment. Afterwards, Dan was to come to Nashville to hang out and interview Harlan. Sadly, that never happened.

However, I got the call to meet the cameraman and lighting guy at Harlan Howard Songs at 8AM. Harlan was to arrive at 10AM. Setting up one camera and one light took the two men about 15 minutes so there was plenty of time for coffee and a chat. I was on the phone when the cameraman came into my office. I was on hold when he asked me a question, “where are you from?” I thought for a moment, oh just say Nashville. I remarked that I was from a small town in Tennessee. He said, “try me.” The person I was holding for came on the line and I was flustered with his question. I whispered, “Tullahoma.” He said in a long drawn out tone, “Tullahoma, I only know one person from Tullahoma.” I thought, I’ve been gone so long, I’m sure I don’t know the person he knows. He said, “Robert. P. Smith.” I screeched, “that’s my Daddy!” I quickly got off the phone so I could hear the rest of the story. Flabbergasted, I said, “what, did you say?” The cameraman introduced himself to me. He said, “hi, I’m Darrell, Darrell Barton.” We shook hands. He asked me if my father was still alive? I assured him he was and still living in Tullahoma. Then Darrell told me his story.

As background, my Dad taught motion picture photography and production at the University of Oklahoma at Norman every year for thirty years as part of the NPPA (National Press Photographers Association). One year, a young Darrell Barton was enrolled in his class. His first task was a short introductory piece on himself. My Dad asked, “whose piece is this?” Darrell raised his hand. Dad asked Darrell what his hobbies were? Darrell was taken aback and stammered his answer; to which my Dad stated, that he should figure out a way to make a living at something he loved, because he didn’t see a future for him as a motion picture producer. Darrell told me that one incident was a defining moment in his life. Dad’s dismissal lit a torch in Darrell. He vowed to be one of the best motion picture producers and prove my Dad wrong.

After hearing Darrell’s story and hearing of his incredible successes in motion picture photography, he asked me to call my Dad. Dad answered the phone and I said Dad guess who is in my office? I told him the story and he said, “is his shirt tucked in?” I said, “no sir.” He asked if his hair was neat and trimmed, I confirmed that it was not. Then I handed the phone to Darrell.

After a few minutes on the phone with my Dad, I heard him say that after getting footage on Harlan, Darrell wanted to drive to Tullahoma to spend the day with my Dad. They had a wonderful visit and Dad was so happy to see and hear of Darrell Barton’s success. Dad retired from teaching motion pictures and guess who took his place. Darrell Barton. I recently ran across these photos of my father and me at the cabin. I’m in a “dress like Darrell” t-shirt. Dad came home from teaching one year with a bunch of “Dress like Darrell” t-shirts. Who knew more than twenty years later, I’d still have mine, and I’d get to meet Darrell Barton? My Dad inspired me in so many ways, I’m happy to know he inspired Darrell Barton, too.

Robert P. Smith and Melanie Smith-Howard

I just googled Darrell Barton and I’m sorry to say, he passed away in 2015. A Darrell Barton Foundation honoring his legendary career in photojournalism was established by his family. Harlan was a storyteller in the three minute song format much like Darrell Barton was a storyteller in the medium of film and tape. I’m thankful every day for storytellers. Check out Darrell Barton

Respectfully written,

Melanie Smith-Howard

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