Billy Stewart

Billy Stewart

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Artist Biography

Official Biography (provided by Billy Stewart Facebook group)

Billy Stewart, born March 24, 1937, basically grew up singing in a musical family. BILLY STEWART from Washington DC., was a Chess Recording artist in the 50's and 60's and was discovered by BO DIDDLY and his uncle, the Late CALVIN (HOUND DOG) RUFFIN SR. Billy's musical and talented family (the RUFFIN family of Wash, DC), consisted of cousin of Grace Ruffin, from the legendary group The Jewels, Washington DC Recording artist Dane Riley, Local songstress Tracy Songbird Ruffin, Local pianist and singer Calvin C Ruffin Jr., the legendary local Gospel group the Bruton Sisters and International singer/performer Geryl Anderson, all from Washington, DC.

He joined his mother's group, the Stewart Gospel Singers, as a teenager, and won a local talent show singing George Gershwin's song "Summertime." While appearing in a concert in Washington, singer Bo Diddley discovered Billy while he was playing his piano backstage at the Capitol Arena Theater, and asked him to join his band. While on this venture, Billy developed his talents by teaching himself to play the organ, bass, and drums. He got an opportunity to cut some sides during his stay with the band and recorded a song entitled "Billy's Blues" in 1956. He signed with the label Okeh in 1957 and recorded "Billy's "Heartache" and "Baby, You Are My Only Love" with local group called the Marquees, which featured a very young Marvin Gaye. Billy wouldn't record anything for the next 5 years."

Billy, who was on the Chess label when he was with Bo Diddley's group in 1956, left to sign with the Okeh label in 1957, but would return to the Chess label in the early part of the '60s. He struck up a friendship with Chess' new A&R man, Billy Davis, and a songwriting-producer partnership evolved. Billy Stewart's nickname was "Fat Boy," and Billy Davis asked him to write a song based on his nickname. The result was a song recorded in January of 1962 called "Fat Boy." That particular session produced two other tunes including, "Reap What You Sow" and "Sugar and Spice." "Reap What You Sow" became Billy's first hit in 1962, going to #18 on the R&B charts. Then in September 1963 he hit with another classic, "Strange Feeling." This would start a trend of Billy's by recording songs about a lonely guy trying to find the right girl. The next hit came in March of 1964 with "Count Me Out." The song did pretty well locally on the Chicago scene, but failed to generate a huge seller.

It wasn't until late 1964 that Billy would record two songs that would make him an international star. In December 1964, Billy recorded and released his masterpiece hit entitled, "I Do Love You." The song hit both the R&B and Pop charts and stayed on the charts for as long as 21 weeks. The next masterpiece release was "Sitting In The Park." It hit Top Ten R&B and Top Twenty pop. Billy was in popular demand by both songs being so successful.

His extensive touring became impossible for him to get back in the studio to record, because as Billy put it, touring paid more of the bills than receiving record royalties. Finally, in the summer of 1966, with two other hits "How Nice It Is" and "Because I Love You," Billy wanted to try something new and different. Trying to reach more into the pop stream, Billy Davis suggests that he try recording an album of standards, which would broaden his audience. Billy went back to a song that won him a local talent show as teenager with "Summertime." The recording took place on October 6, 1965 and featured the regular Chess session musicians including Pete Cosey on guitar, Louis Satterfield on the electric bass, Sonny Thompson on piano and a young drummer, (who would go on to have a major influence in the 70's later with his group Earth, Wind & Fire) Maurice White. Maurice White played session drums for all of the hit records at Chess. With Billy's trademark of doubling words and his new nickname being "Motormouth," this was Billy at his best.

It paid off, making "Summertime" his first crossover top ten hit on the Pop charts and hitting #7 on the R&B charts. He recorded the LP "Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks," with nothing but standards, and released a Doris Day song entitled "Secret Love," which hit #11 R&B, and landed in the top 30 position on the Pop charts. Billy then went back to writing his own material because he realized that more money came from writing his own material. Billy came up with another masterpiece entitled "Cross My Heart" in October of 1967. He continued to write and record songs, and tour throughout the late part of the '60s, but wouldn't score another hit.

In 1969, Billy was involved in a motorcycle accident, plus prior to this setback, his diabetes had worsened. Then on January 17, 1970, Billy and three of his band members were killed when his car ran off the road and plunged into the Neuce River in NC. The soul community mourned the loss of a talented singer who had a distinctive style, and certain way of captivating an audience with beautiful haunting heartbreaking songs. Billy's music was once again appreciated with new generation of record buyers, when, in the late 1979, the group GQ did great remakes of "I Do Love You" and "Sitting In The Park." Both songs once again hit top ten on the R&B charts. Singer Bobby Thurston would also record "Sitting In The Park" on his debut LP.

His legacy is being kept alive here and by his musical family members who are still performing locally and abroad. A talented genius gone far too soon.

 

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