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Country Music Mourns Pee Wee King

Posted in News on March 8, 2000
The passing this week of Pee Wee King has taken from the scene one of Country music's major songwriters and a longtime member of BMI. Of the several hundred songs he wrote, four have received multi-million performances: "Bonaparte's Retreat," "Slow Poke" and "You Belong To Me." And, of course, "Tennessee Waltz," which he co-wrote with his band partner Redd Stewart in 1948. Inspired by Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz," the song was recorded by King and Stewart for RCA, but then took off into a whole other level of success with the release of Patti Page's cover version in 1951. Through the use of multi-tracking, which allowed the vocalist to sing four-part harmony with herself, the record went on to sell 65million copies. The piece has received over 4 million performances and remains one of the most popular songs of all time as well as being named the official state song of Tennessee in 1965.

In addition to his considerable achievements as a songwriter, King also helped to transform the performance of Country music. He brought electrical instruments to the staid stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and the striking stage costumes and energetic stage behavior of his Golden West Cowboys gave a new flash and style to the genre. King was a master of many media. He made B movie westerns, appeared on radio, and from 1947-57 had his own television series. The succession of major performers who worked with him is staggering: Ernest Tubb, Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl and Cowboy Copas. He was honored during his lifetime more than once, being elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974. He was also one of the Country Music Hall of Fame's directors. King recorded for many labels, most notably RCA, which released more than 20 albums and 157 singles during his 17-year presence on the roster. That material is available on a 6 CD set from the Bear Family label. In 1999, a 2 CD set of radio transcriptions by the Golden West Cowboys was released by the Chicago-based Soundies label and received a lengthy and glowing review in the N.Y. Times.