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For the English goalkeeper, see Billy Stewart (footballer). For other persons of similar names, see Bill Stewart and William Stewart.
Billy Stewart
Born March 24, 1937
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Died January 17, 1970 (aged 32)
Selma, North Carolina, U.S.
Genres R&B, Chicago soul, Northern soul
Occupations Singer, musician
Instruments Vocals, piano, drums
Years active 1956 — 1969
Labels Chess Records, Okeh Records

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



Stewart was 12 years old when he began singing with his brothers Johnny 11, James 9 and Frank 4 as the 4 Stewart Brothers, and later went on to get their own radio show every Sunday for five years at WUST radio station in Washington, D.C. After that he joined 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 the future soul star, Don Covay. It was also through the Rainbows that Stewart met another aspiring singer, 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". A strong seller in Los Angeles, "Billy's Blues" reached the sales top 25 in Variety magazine. Stewart then moved to Okeh Records and recorded "Billy's Heartache" backed by the Marquees, another D.C. area group which featured Marvin Gaye.

Back at Chess in the early 1960s, Stewart began working with A&R man Billy Davis. He recorded a song called "Fat Boy" and then had additional success with his recordings of "Reap What You Sow" and "Strange Feeling", both making the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 30 in the R&B charts. Major chart success was not far away and in 1965, Stewart recorded two self-written songs; "I Do Love You" (#6 R&B, #26 Pop) which featured his brother Johnny Stewart as one of the backing vocalists, and "Sitting in the Park" (#4 R&B, #24 Pop). His idiosyncratic improvisational technique of doubling-up, scatting his words and trilling his lips made his style unique in the 1960s.

In 1966, Stewart recorded the LP Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks. The first single released from that album was Stewart's radical interpretation of the George Gershwin song, "Summertime", a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts. 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. He died on January 17, 1970, just two months prior to his 33rd birthday, when the car he was driving plunged into the Neuse River in Smithfield, North Carolina, killing him and three members of his band.[1 ]

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

Stewart was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame in 1982.




  • Chess 1625: "Billy's Blues" / "Billy's Blues" (3/1956, with Bo Diddley & His Band)
  • Okeh 4-7095: "Baby, You're My Only Love" / "Billy's Heartache" (1957 with Bo Diddley, backed by The "Marquees")
  • Chess 1820: "Reap What You Sow" / "Fat Boy" (1962)
  • Chess 1835: "True Fine Lovin'" / "Wedding Bells" (1962)
  • Chess 1852: "Scramble" / "Oh, What Can The Matter Be" (1963)
  • Chess 1868: "Sugar And Spice" / "Strange Feeling" (1963)
  • Chess 1888: "Fat Boy Can Cry" / "Count Me Out" (1964)
  • Chess 1905: "Tell It Like It Is" / "My Sweet Senorita" (1964)
  • Chess 1922: "I Do Love You" / "Keep Loving" (1965)
  • Chess 1932: "Sitting In The Park" / "Once Again" (1965)
  • Chess 1941: "How Nice It Is" / "No Girl" (1965)
  • Chess 1948: "Because I Love You" / "Mountain Of Love" (1965)
  • Chess 1960: "Love Me" / "Why Am I Lonely" (1966)
  • Chess 1966: "Summertime"/ "To Love, To Love" (1966)
  • Chess 1978: "Secret Love" / "Look Back And Smile" (1967)
  • Chess 1991: "Every Day I Have The Blues" / "Ol' Man River" (1967)
  • Chess 2002: "Cross My Heart" / "Why (Do I Love You So)?" (1967)
  • Chess 2053: "Tell Me The Truth" / "What Have I Done?" (1968)
  • Chess 2063: "I'm In Love" / "Crazy 'Bout You, Baby" (1969)
  • Chess 2080: "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" / "We'll Always Be Together" (1969)


  • Chess 1496: I Do Love You (1965) (Billboard #97)
  • Chess 1499: Unbelievable (1965) (Billboard #138)
  • Chess 1513: Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks (1967)
  • Chess 1547: Remembered (1969)
  • Sugar Hill/Chess CH-8401: The Greatest Sides (1982)


  1. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. pp. 208. CN 5585.  

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