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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Billy Stewart born 24 March 1937

Billy Stewart (24 March 1937 – 17 January 1970) was an American musical artist, with a highly distinctive scat-singing style, who enjoyed popularity in the early 1960s.

Stewart began singing publicly with his mother's group, the Stewart Gospel Singers, as a teenager. He made the transition to secular music by filling in occasionally for the Rainbows, a D.C. area vocal group led by future soul star Don Covay. It was also through the Rainbows that Stewart met another 

aspiring singer, a very young Marvin Gaye. Seminal rock and roller Bo Diddley has been credited with discovering Stewart playing piano in Washington, D.C. in 1956 and inviting him to be one of his backup musicians. This led to a recording contract with Diddley's label, Chess Records, and Diddley played guitar on Stewart's 1956 recording of "Billy's Blues". Stewart then moved to Okeh Records and recorded "Billy's Heartache" backed by the Marquees, another D.C. area group which was now featuring Marvin Gaye.

Back at Chess in the early 1960s, Stewart began working with A&R man Billy Davis. He cut a song called "Fat Boy". Showing additional promise with his recordings of "Reap

What You Sow" and "Strange Feeling", major chart success was not far away. Stewart hit both the pop and R&B charts in 1965 with the self-written songs, “I Do Love You” and “Sitting in the Park.” His improvisational technique of doubling-up, scatting his words and trilling his lips made his style unique in the 1960s.

In an attempt to attract a mainstream pop audience, Billy Davis thought of the idea of Stewart doing an album of standards in his vocal style. Billy reach back to a song that won him a local contest as a teenager, the 'Porgy and Bess' classic ' Summertime'. The session took place on Wednesday, October 6, 1965, featuring the regular Chess players, Louis
Satterfield on bass, Pete Cosey on guitar, Sonny Thompson on piano, and Maurice White (of Earth Wind & Fire fame) on drums. Art Hoyle, Paul Serrano and John Howell, on trumpets. John Avant, Julian Priester, Morris Ellis on trombones. Bunky Green on alto sax, Johnny Board on tenor sax, Rubin Cooper on baritone sax and Bryce Robertson on guitar.

In 1966, Stewart recorded the LP Unbelievable. The first single released from that album was Stewart's radical interpretation of the George Gershwin song, "Summertime", which hit No 7 R&B the week ending Sept 10, 1966 and No. 10 Pop Aug 27. the song proved to be the biggest hit of his career. The follow-up single was Stewart's cover version of the Doris Day hit "Secret Love", which reached the Pop Top 30 and just missed the Top 10 on the R&B chart.

While Stewart continued to record throughout the remainder of the 1960s on Chess without major success, his weight problem worsened and he developed diabetes. He also suffered minor injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1969.

Stewart died in a car accident the following January, just two months prior to his 33rd birthday. The accident happened
when the Ford Thunderbird Stewart was driving approached a bridge across the Neuse River. Stewart's car left the highway, ran along the median strip at a slight angle to the highway, struck the bridge curbing, and plunged into the river, killing Stewart and three members of his band instantly. The car had been purchased only 12 days before and had been driven only 1,400 miles before the accident occurred. Sarah Stewart, the executrix of his estate, sued Ford Motor Company on behalf of his estate, claiming mechanical failure was the cause of the accident.The first trial was won by Ford Motor Company, but on appeal the court ruled that the trial court's refusal to give the requested jury instructions was in error and ordered the case reversed and remanded. The case was then settled out of court. He was buried in National Harmony Memorial Park in Landover, Maryland.

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, in the West Coast, his music was very popular among Latino, specifically Chicano, youth.

In 2005 weeks after Hurricane Katrina, rare recordings of Billy Stewart's music could be heard around the French Quarters of New Orleans, being played by the soulful female DJ known as Savannah Rose. When asked, she simply replied, "its my commitment to keep this music alive, look what he has given us."

Billy Stewart was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame in 1982. (info edited from Wikipedia & chancellorofsoul)

Here's the only video footage I can find on the web. Quality very poor, but still a great illustration of Billy's style.


boppinbob said...

For LP Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks go here:

boppinbob said...

For the 1966 Lp Unbelievable go here:!download|949p1|1446351162||79725|0|0