Billy Stewart

Billy StewartFrom: Washington, D.C., USA

Born in 1937, Billy Stewart was well known for his scat-singing style. He would enjoy success in the 1960s before tragically passing away in 1970 . Stewart began singing at age twelve with his brothers Johnny, James, and Frank. They called themselves The 4 Stewart Brothers, and ended up getting their own radio show every Sunday for five years at WUST in Washington, D.C.

Switching over to secular music, Stewart occasionally filled in for the Rainbows, a vocal group led by future star Don Covay. It was also the Rainbows who introduced Stewart to a fellow aspiring musician by the name of Marvin Gaye. Rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley discovered Stewart in 1956, and invited him to become a backup musician. A recording contract would eventually materialize with Stewart signing to the Chess Records label, the same label that featured Diddley.

In the early ’60s, Stewart began to work with A&R man Billy Davis. Stewart recorded the song “Fat Boy”, followed by “Reap What You Sow” and “Strange Feeling”. The last two songs both charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and made the Top 30 on the R&B charts. 1965 saw Stewart take a big step forward. He recorded two self written songs, “I Do Love You” (#6 R&B, #26 Pop), which included his brother Johnny on backing vocals, and “Sitting in the Park” (#4 R&B, #24 Pop). Stewart’s scatting style is heard on these records, giving them a unique quality.

The album Unbelievable was recorded in 1966. The album’s first single was Stewart’s interpretation of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. The song became a Top 10 hit on both the R&B and pop charts, while the follow-up single, a cover of Doris Day’s “Secret Love” reached the Pop Top 30. Stewart continued to record throughout the 1960s, but never again found the success he had with “Summertime”.

Billy Stewart always battled with a weight problem, and in the later parts of the ’60s it worsened and he developed diabetes. He would also suffer minor injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1969. Just two months before he turned 33, Stewart was killed in a car crash. While he was approaching the bridge at the Neuse River, Stewart’s car left the highway, struck the bridge curbing, and plunged into the river. Stewart and the three passengers who were with him all died instantly.

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1966 album Unbelievable

  • Summertime