News Articles

‘Unsung Hero’ movie displays a mother’s unwavering faith

Popular contemporary Christian artists Rebecca St. James, her brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone who constitute For King & Country and four other siblings are blessed with a remarkable story and a mom who is a spiritual role model. The story of the Smallbone family’s journey from Australia to Tennessee and their mom Helen’s unwavering faith will be told in a movie to be released April 26 called “Unsung Hero.”

When the Smallbones moved to Brentwood, Tenn., in the early 1990s, they were in the same neighborhood as Kay Dekalb Smith and her family. Kay grew up in Hartselle, Ala., watching her mom reach out to children in the housing projects, inviting them to Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church Hartselle and returning to their homes with bags of clothes and groceries. It became part of Kay’s DNA to find ways to meet the needs of struggling people around her. Along the way, she shared her vocal talents and hilarious wit with church groups across the state of Alabama. She was crowned Miss Alabama Teenager at age 17 and Miss Birmingham in 1973. She married Ed Smith in 1982, and they moved to Brentwood and had two daughters. 

Friends at first sight
Kay Dekalb Smith (left) with Helen Smallbone, the inspiration for the new movie, “Unsung Hero.”

One of Kay’s daughters brought home a flyer she received at school that caught Kay’s attention. It said, “Family from Australia. Moved with 6 children. Dad lost job. Need help. Willing to work: Ironing, leaf raking, housecleaning, babysitting, pulling weeds.” The flyer included the family’s address. Kay showed up a couple of days later with two bags full of groceries. Helen Smallbone, then pregnant with her seventh child, opened the door and invited Kay in. Kay looked around at a very odd mixture of furniture. Helen noticed Kay looking and said, “Isn’t God good? Everything God gave us matches!” Kay recounts she knew at that moment they would be friends forever.

Kay and Ed hired the Smallbones’ oldest daughter, whom they called “Beck,” to babysit when they went out, and Kay started a frequent habit of showing up to chat and fold clothes while Helen ironed to make money. The conversations were about life in Australia, God’s continual guidance and His many blessings and provisions.  Often Kay would leave cereal, soap and toilet paper at the back door, and those three items became Kay’s signature gift. In fact, years later when a party was held to celebrate the Smallbones’ becoming American citizens, Kay brought cereal, soap and toilet paper to the event. 

Kay remembers her family’s being invited to the Smallbones’ for dinner. The family would start the meal with a song of blessing, and then two pans of food were passed around. In spite of the large number of people (nine Smallbones and four Smiths), there was always food left over — a fact that amazed Kay and Ed. It was apparent that there was no shame in that family, only gratitude.

Rise to stardom

Fast forward 30 years and the accomplishments and accolades of the Smallbone children are stunning. Grammy, Dove and Billboard Music awards, No. 1 hit singles on Christian radio stations and videos, books and movies continue. When Beck first began recording and touring under the stage name Rebecca St. James (selected as a connection to extended family), the whole family traveled with her, pitching in to do all the jobs necessary for a performance while acquiring unique skills and experience in the process. The Smallbone children’s early days in the United States of working long hours doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, then coming in and putting the money they earned on the kitchen table to be used to pay the family bills, reaped later benefits of understanding the importance of hard work and unselfishness.

“Behind the Lights: The Extraordinary Adventure of a Mum and Her Family,” a book written by St. James, Helen Smallbone and Lisa Stilwell, was released in 2022. That book and the upcoming movie tell the story in a riveting and entertaining way.

Kay Dekalb Smith, who was called “Auntie Kay” by the Smallbones, is portrayed in the movie by Candace Cameron Bure. Candace shared with Kay that this is the first role she’s ever had based on a real person, not just a character. Alabama native Lucas Black also has a role in the film.

“Unsung Hero” is produced by Lionsgate and is rated PG. 

This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist.

    About the Author

  • Connie Pearson