Sold--for a Song

Bruce Nichols

Something you don't see every day: identical country singers with Stanford English degrees who also work as auctioneers.

For Amy and Annie Smith, it's a family thing. The only daughters in a brood of seven, the twins learned to harmonize from their mother and to play guitar from their oldest brother, Clark. As kids, they performed at military bases and on cruise ships. At age 12, they went on television's Gong Show and won, singing a western classic with a title that also described their father's occupation: "Auctioneer."

Annie wrote their first original song in the early 1970s, in memory of Clark, who had taken his own life. That's when the sisters discovered their musical niche: highly personal works about people and causes they believe in. Writing Clark's song, says Amy, "was an emotional release, which later turned into joy at being able to remember him that way."

Most recently, they dedicated a song about breast cancer to their mother, who survived the disease. "Do It for Your Mama" has become a theme song at breast cancer fund-raising events. On the same album--Where I Belong, released last June--is a heartfelt anthem to Wyoming that has been adopted by the Nature Conservancy.

Their other calling, auctioneering, also runs in the family: the Smith brothers all took up their father's profession. Still, Annie and Amy were surprised when their father announced that they, too, would join the fraternity. "We were in high school," Annie remembers. "We'd just gotten home from a USO tour, and our dad said, 'You're going to auction school!'" That winter, the twins went off to Kansas City, Mo., for two months of professional training. Today they run charity auctions, traveling across the country from their home base in Cheyenne, Wyo. "Auctioning and singing make for a very interesting combination," Amy says. "Because of our songwriting and our fund raising [in auctions], we've been able to make our own path."

Why attend Stanford, when those two promising careers beckoned? For one thing, both sisters were dedicated students. In high school, Amy (the elder by four minutes) and Annie were valedictorian and salutatorian respectively--though Annie maintains it's because their chemistry teacher mixed them up and gave her a B that should have gone to Amy.

But the Farm also held a more visceral allure. "When we were little, we were at the Berkeley-Stanford game watching my brother march in the Cal band," Amy recalls. "Then I saw the Stanford Band come on the field, and I thought, 'I have got to go to that school.'"

Chaney Rankin, '00