Amusingly, a thick volume of American musical biographies makes the following comment about this artist: "Few Smith songs popular, but effective within context of shows." A Harry Beasley Smith ditty entitled "The Sheik of Araby" nevertheless rivals warhorses such as "Stardust" and "Blowin' in the Wind" for recorded versions. Also known simply as "The Sheik," this could well be the only song that has been in the repertoire of practically every classic jazz or swing group in existence while also receiving interpretations from a confusing array of artists in other genres including rockers the Beatles, the bluegrass Kentucky Colonels, and the classical Canadian Brass.
Smith's career on Broadway began in the late 1880s. His brother Robert B. Smith was also involved in the same kind of projects. Beginning with composer Reginald DeKoven, Smith enjoyed an impressive series of collaborative relationships including many scores concocted with Victor Herbert. Smith hit shows include The Little Duchess in 1901, A Parisian Model in 1906, Sybil in 1916, and The Circus Princess in 1927.
The characters in his songs included gypsies as well as sheiks, a "Gypsy Love Song" filling the air circa the late 19th century while "Play Gypsies, Dance Gypsies" represented his instructions for the early Roaring Twenties. Smith toiled as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, branching out into writing fiction as well as magazine articles on music and literature. In his early years he also specialized in adapting French and German operettas. The title of his final show in 1932, Marching By, is also a good description of the audience reaction: it was a flop.