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Redd Stewart, 80; Country Singer Wrote the Lyrics for 'Tennessee Waltz'

August 06, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

I was dancin' with my darlin' to the Tennessee Waltz

When an old friend I happened to see

I introduced her to my loved one

And while they were dancin'

My friend stole my sweetheart from me.

-- "Tennessee Waltz," 1948


Redd Stewart, country music singer, fiddler, banjo player and guitarist who wrote the lyrics for "Tennessee Waltz" on a matchbox cover, has died. He was said to be 80, although several sources list his birth date as in May of 1921.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 10, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
"Tennessee Waltz" -- The obituary of Redd Stewart in Wednesday's California section said "Tennessee Waltz," for which he wrote the lyrics, was also recorded by "the Cowboy Copas," wrongly implying that Copas was a group. Cowboy Copas was an individual singer.

Stewart died Saturday in a St. Matthews, Ky., hospital of complications from head injuries suffered in a fall at his Louisville home a few years ago.

The singer and fiddler with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys was riding with his boss in 1946 when they heard Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz" on the radio. It was too bad, they agreed, that Tennessee -- where they had worked for several years on the Grand Ole Opry -- lacked a similar anthem.

Stewart tore apart a matchbox and started scribbling lyrics, fitting them to King's melody that he had called "No Name Waltz." They recorded the song in 1948, as did the Cowboy Copas and Roy Acuff.

But it was Patti Page's 1950 recording that waltzed the song to No. 1 on the pop chart and the Top 3 on the country chart. Her version initially sold more than 3 million records and has since sold several million more copies.

In 1965, then Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement had "Tennessee Waltz" declared the state's fourth official song.

"We should have kept the matchbox cover, but who thinks of those things," King told Associated Press in 1987. He died in 2000 at the age of 86.

Stewart and King, sometimes in collaboration with Chilton Price, also wrote the hits "Bonaparte's Retreat," which launched Kay Starr and was later recorded by Carl Smith and Glen Campbell; "Slow Poke," which King took to No. 1 on the pop chart; and "You Belong to Me," most famously recorded by Jo Stafford.

Stewart was inducted as a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, although unlike King, he was never added to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Born Henry Ellis Stewart in Ashland City, Tenn., he grew up in Louisville and began playing banjo, piano and guitar while in school. He dropped out after seventh grade to play in local bands and changed his first name to "Redd" because of his red hair and freckles.

Stewart landed his first songwriting job -- a jingle for a car dealer's commercial -- when he was only 14. A couple of years later, he was playing with King's band on Louisville's WHAS radio with Eddy Arnold as vocalist.

The young fiddler toured with the band and performed with them in several Western movies with such stars as Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown and Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid. Stewart and King were also in the 1961 film "Hoedown."

Drafted into the Army at the outset of World War II, Stewart served in the South Pacific as a sergeant and in 1944 wrote "Soldier's Last Letter," which became a hit song for Ernest Tubb, spending four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart.

When Stewart rejoined King's band at war's end, he replaced Arnold as vocalist. When they left the Grand Ole Opry in 1947, the band moved to Louisville radio and later television station WAVE where they became a weekly fixture until 1957.

In addition to King, Stewart performed with his wife, Darlene Collins Stewart, who toured with her sister and sang with Minnie Pearl as the Collins Sisters. Darlene Stewart died July 26.

Among Stewart's albums were "Redd Stewart Sings Favorite Old Time Tunes" in 1959 and "Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart" in 1964.

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