George Smith was born on April 22, 1924 in Helena, Arkansas, but was raised in Cairo, Illinois. At age four, he was already taking harp lessons from his mother, a guitar player and a somewhat stern taskmaster: it was a case of get-it-right-or-else. In his early teens, he started hoboing around towns in the South and later joined Early Woods, a country band with Early Woods on fiddle and Curtis Gould on spoons. He also worked with a gospel group in Mississippi called the Jackson Jubilee Singers. Smith moved to Rock Island, Illinois, in 1941 and played with a group that included Francis Clay on drums. There is evidence that he was one of the first to amplify his harp. While working at the Dixie Theater, he took an old 16mm cinema projector, extracted the amplifier/speaker, and began using this on the streets.