Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart played in a band called the Golden West Cowboys. Stewart was a singer and fiddler while King, who was born Julius Frank Kuczynski, brought accordion and brass into his music, which helped shape the merger of country and jazz in what has been called Western swing. While riding in Stewart’s truck one day in 1947, the pair scribbled out “Tennessee Waltz”, LW modeling it after “Kentucky Waltz” by Bill Monroe.
In 1948, King’s recording of the song hit #3 on the country charts. Cowboy Copas’ recording hit the same peak and a version by Roy Acuff went to #12. However, when Patti Page, the best-selling female singer of the ‘50s, JA put her stamp on the song, it marked the moment when country went mainstream. LW With 13 weeks at #1 on the pop charts and sales of six million, it was the biggest hit of 1950 and one of the ten best sellers of the first half of the century. PM
At the end of World War II, the “Swing Era” of big-band-oriented music had given way to the “Sing Era”, which was more dominated by individual vocalists. However, record companies didn’t generally entrust the singers to find their own material. They enlisted A&R men for the task. It was Jerry Wexler, the man who later produced Aretha Franklin, who saw the song’s potential. Page was a dance band singer with a voice reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. LW Page’s recording was significant for the use of multi-tracking. Even though audiotape wasn’t used yet in recording, Page sang four-part harmony with herself. SA
The song’s success encouraged other performers to turn to country for cover material as well. In addition, the song inspired more state waltzes. JA King and Stewart’s composition became the official Tennessee state song in 1965. LW
JA David A. Jasen. (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 190.
LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 91.
SA David Sadowski (1999). Haven’t Named It Yet: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Prehistory, 1926-55.
TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Pages 136 and 148-9.
PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 631.
Related DMDB Link(s):
Click on box above to check out the DMDB on Facebook.