• Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

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Black Music Sunday: Remembering singer Billy Stewart

Black Music Sunday: Remembering singer Billy Stewart


Billy Stewart was a stellar R&B singer with a singular vocal fashion of scatting and phrase doubling who doesn’t get sufficient props once we’re discussing the “greats” of the style. We’re celebrating his birthday and remembering a performer who introduced pleasure to all who heard him, although he has typically been neglected when discussing nice soul singers.

Stewart was born on March 24, 1937, within the nation’s capital—which might be his residence base for his whole life, although he recorded his main hits for Chess Information in Chicago. Tragically, his hit-making profession was reduce brief in January 1970, when on the age of 32, he was in a tragic car accident that killed him and three of his band members: Norman P. Wealthy, William Cathey, and Rico Hightower.

However Stewart’s music lives on, and with hits like “Summertime,” “I Do Love You,” and “Sitting within the Park,” he carved a spot in lots of our hearts. Be part of me in celebrating his reminiscence and his music at present.

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly sequence highlighting all issues Black music, with over 200 tales masking performers, genres, historical past, and extra, every that includes its personal vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll discover some acquainted tunes and maybe an introduction to one thing new.

Dr. Otis D. Alexander’s Black Previous biography covers Stewart’s early years:

On the age of 9, Stewart performed the piano. At 12, he started singing gospel along with his three youthful brothers. All of them have been taught piano by their mom they usually have been generally known as “the Stewart Gospel Singers” below the course of Idabel Stewart. In 1955, Billy Stewart graduated from Armstrong Technical Excessive Faculty, an all-black highschool in then racially segregated Washington, D.C. 

The legendary guitarist Bo Diddley found Stewart’s reward and expertise as a pianist in 1956 when he noticed his efficiency with the R&B group, the Rainbows, and launched him to Chicago-based Chess Information’ expertise scouts.

The Rainbows have been the topic of a 2003 story by Washington Put up music critic Richard Harrington.

A Pot of Gold for Followers of the Rainbows

Within the historical past of soul music in Washington, the Rainbows are remembered much less for his or her a number of minor hits than for a trio of main skills who have been, at one level or one other, a part of the vocal ensemble within the mid ’50s. One, Marvin Gaye, is a licensed large. One other is Don Covay, an often-overlooked artist whose track closet has been raided by everybody from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones. The final is Billy Stewart, an outstanding vocalist who died greater than three a long time in the past and is now sadly forgotten.

[…]

Pianist and singer Billy Stewart, the third of the Rainbows’ main skills who was inducted into the WAMA Corridor of Fame earlier this yr, was a particular stylist whose stuttering supply and word-doubling approach earned him the nickname “Motormouth.” Born right here in 1937, Stewart began in gospel, moved to secular music with Rainbows and, below the tutelage of Bo Diddley, reduce his first single, “Billy’s Blues,” for Chess in 1956. He was backed by the Marquees on 1957’s “Billy’s Heartache.” Different early singles included “Fats Boy” (Stewart weighed 350 kilos) and “Reap What You Sow.”

I discover the background on Washington, D.C., as a supply of doo-wop and R&B expertise to be fairly attention-grabbing. Researching Stewart led me to The African American Music Affiliation’s “The Nations Capital—DooWop from the Streetcorner to the Stage,” which led me subsequent to a profile of Stewart.

Stewart’s ardour for singing in his early years made him a DC legend as he sang in lots of DC space nightclubs from U Road to the native favourite The Shelter Room in Northeast, Washington, DC.  Stewart was recognized to interrupt out singing on the sidewalks of DC. He was a favourite on the Howard Theater in DC, The Apollo Theater in New York, and different live performance theaters alongside the “Chitlin’ Circuit”.

Although I went to Howard College and hosted a radio present in D.C. for a number of years, I used to be rather more conscious of D.C. as the house of Duke Ellington. My New York Metropolis chauvinism led me to think about my hometown as the one residence of doo-wop. 

I stand corrected. 

Right here’s that recording of “Billy’s Blues,” with Bo Diddley:

In line with his biographers, Stewart struggled along with his weight points and diabetes for his entire grownup life. Two of his songs straight referenced his weight. He recorded “Fats Boy” in 1962, and the poignant “A Fats Boy Can Cry” in 1964.

“Fats Boy” can be the title of the documentary about his life. Extra on that in a second.

Stewart left Chess Information to file on the Okeh label, and didn’t return to Chess till 1965. Michael Jack Kirby, music historian and oldies radio programmer at Approach Again Assault, provides an in depth have a look at Stewart’s transition to hit information.

Billy was thinking about returning to Chess, which by that point had employed Roquel “Billy” Davis, a former Detroit producer and songwriter (for Motown and some different small labels); Davis had freelanced for Chess earlier than changing into a everlasting fixture and for Stewart the timing was proper (a brief,skinny man, Davis has mentioned he felt he complemented the hefty singer). In January 1962, a robust two-sider was recorded: “Fats Boy,”an autobiographical love track of kinds (‘…I used to be her satisfaction and pleasure…and she or he was in love-a with-a fats boy…’), and “Reap What You Sow,” which set a normal for Stewart’s kind of tongue-twisting exultation (‘Child, child, a-baby, a-baby come-a back-a residence, wo-o-o-o,o-o-o-o-o-o-oooh…’); backing vocals have been supplied by the 4 Jewels, a lady group from Washington, D.C. that had successful, “Alternative,”a few years later as The Jewels. After a number of months on the shelf, the one was issued and “Reap” grew to become a prime 20 R&B hit and minor pop constitution.

[…]

A December 1964 recording session produced two huge hits, each Stewart compositions enhanced by male vocal backing (his brother Johnny participating). “I Do Love You” is an early instance of the graceful Chi-soul pattern growing on the time, Billy’s extra-syllable fashion operating all through. Going prime ten R&B and prime 30 pop in Could 1965, the chart feat was repeated two months later with “Sitting within the Park,” sonically comparable however lyrically extra somber (‘Sitting right here on the bench…with my again towards the fence…wondering-a if I-I-I…have any sense, woman…’). The period’s “obese lover” unapologetically tailor-made his music to feminine followers with “How Good It Is,” the excessively bubbly “As a result of I Love You” (‘I will observe a rainbow…deliver you a pot of gold…la-la-la-la…’), “Mountain of Love” and “Love Me.” But in 1966, Stewart grew uninterested in such ardour performs and determined to attempt one thing slightly totally different.

“I Do Love You” brings again plenty of recollections for me. It obtained performed at each “blue gentle” celebration I went to that summer time.

This wonderful stay model of “I Do Love You” was recorded in Philadelphia in 1967, at a present on the Nixon Theater put collectively by Philly DJ Jimmy Bishop. 

The total album is accessible on YouTube.

Stewart adopted his first main hit with one other, “Sitting In The Park,” additionally in 1965.

Blogger boppinbob at “From The Vaults” wrote about how Stewart’s cowl of “Summertime” obtained made in late 1965, when A&R man and producer Billy Davis thought “Stewart doing an album of requirements in his vocal fashion” would deliver him into the mainstream and enchantment to pop music listeners. The track, from “Porgy and Bess,” had introduced him a victory as a teen in “an area contest.”

“Approach Again Assault’s” Kirby provides his tackle “Summertime”:

Billy’s lyrical twists aren’t simple to explain, however his prolonged tongue-stutter definitely should be one of the vital recognizable track intros of all time and his ad-libbed line ‘Little darlin’ don’t let a tear fall-a out of your eye-eye-eye-eye-eye…’ makes for a spectacular ending. Guidelines have been bent; Davis instructed the session band to observe no matter Billy did, regulate on the fly, make it work! (Seeing all of it unfold, he will need to have thought, “What sort of a monster are we creating?”). Despite the fact that the track had been carried out on the stage for 3 a long time and within the Academy Award-winning 1959 movie starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, regardless of its having been a prime vendor a number of instances (for Billie Vacation in 1936, Sam Cooke in ’57 and in Nineteen Sixties remakes by The Marcels, Rick Nelson and instrumental act The Chris Columbo Quintet), this newest “Summertime” was the most well liked model but, Billy Stewart’s largest hit, a pop and R&B smash, prime ten within the heat-scorched month of August 1966. Anybody who’s heard it…even simply as soon as…has by no means forgotten it!

This stay efficiency is from the Dick Clark-produced “ The place The Motion Is” in 1967.

As promised earlier: A long-awaited documentary on Stewart helps guarantee he doesn’t fade into obscurity. John Kelly wrote about “Fats Boy: The Billy Stewart Story” for The Washington Put up in 2021.

A brand new documentary celebrates Billy Stewart, D.C.’s distinctive R&B singer

Stewart performed piano in Bo Diddley’s band, then struck out on his personal. He appeared spectacular — his “Fats Boy” nickname was not ironic — and sounded spectacular, with a particular vocal fashion he based mostly on his love of Caribbean music.

“That’s what he advised Dick Clark,” [director Beverly] Lindsay-Johnson mentioned.

You hear it finest on his model of the Gershwin track “Summertime,” through which Stewart trills and scats to a horn-driven background. Quentin Tarantino included the track on the soundtrack to “As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

To file his songs, Stewart traveled to Chicago, the house of Chess Information, however he all the time lived in Washington.

“Billy was a local Washingtonian to his coronary heart,” Lindsay-Johnson mentioned.

The documentary grew out of a program Lindsay-Johnson co-hosted in 2016 on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It explored the careers of Stewart and one other musical Washingtonian, Van McCoy. With funding from Humanities DC, she began work on Stewart’s story in 2019, interviewing family members, musicians he labored with at Chess and one he shared a bus with in a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour: Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine of Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Music journalist T. Watts reviewed the movie for California’s Lake County Information in 2021.

Award-winning documentarian turns to the story of Billy Stewart

Emmy Award-winning documentarian Beverly Lindsay-Johnson is the director/producer of the brand new movie on Soul/Rhythm & Blues legend Billy Stewart.

Stewart, to the uninitiated, was the ebullient, rotund, piano-playing crooner from Washington, D.C., whose extremely authentic fashion of singing has not been replicated earlier than or since. One author described Stewart’s vocal stylings because the R&B equal of scat singing. His tackle two songs specifically; Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and “Secret Love,” made well-known by Doris Day, altered the auditory receptors of American musical style. 

[…]

Skillfully woven in are interviews with many stars of R&B and Doo-Wop who witnessed the artistry of Stewart; Anthony Gourdine of Little Anthony and The Imperials, Herb Fame, of Peaches & Herb, Mitty Collier (“I Had A Discuss With My Man Final Evening”), The Bay Space’s Personal – Queen of the West Coast Blues Sugar Pie DeSanto, (DeSanto wrote a track for Billy Stewart throughout her seven-year tenure with Chess), Grace Ruffin of the Jewells, Music Journalist Mike Boone, and Emanuel Raheim of the Disco/R&B group GQ. The ensuing marriage of the filmmaker’s imaginative and prescient of the preservation of yet one more epoch of Black expression is richly deserving of the worldwide acclaim PBS is affording this documentary

Watch the whole movie right here, courtesy of PBS. It’s value 56 minutes of your time!

The documentary explores the journey of the singer from his days as a piano participant to a well-known R&B balladeer. His fashion of singing was untouchable as he mastered phrase doubling and scatting all through his songs and performances. 

I hope you’ve loved this celebration of Billy Stewart on his birthday. And I’m curious: Was this tribute an introduction for you, or a fond reminiscence? Meet me within the feedback to let me know, and for a ton extra nice music!

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