Smith was born and raised in the all-black community of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College (later Tennessee State University) from 1938 to 1940, but graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1942 with a double major in music and religion. He later received a Bachelor of Divinity degree (now known as a Master of Divinity degree) from Howard University School of Religion in 1945.
In 1969, Smith became assistant dean of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and after his death Vanderbilt named The Kelly Miller Smith Institute on the Black Church in memory of him. Smith was married to Alice Clark Smith and had four children, Joy Ardelia Smith Wright, Adena Modesta Smith Wright, Valerie Lin Smith Robinson, Kelly Miller Smith Jr., and a foster daughter Dorothy Jean Springfield.
The Kelly Miller Smith Memorial Bridge in Nashville is named after Smith.
- Microphone Messages (1947)
- A Doorway to Bible Appreciation (1948)
- Houck, Davis W.; David E. Dixon (2006). Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965. Baylor University Press. p. 821.
- Carroll Van West, ed. (1998). "Kelly Miller Smith Sr.". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Thomas Nelson.