BlackHawk Singer/Songwriter Van Stephenson Remembered As Artist and Humanitarian

Posted in News on April 10, 2001
BMI songwriter Van Stephenson, best known as the highest of the three harmony voices in the band BlackHawk, died Sunday, April 8 after a two-year battle with skin cancer. He was 47. 

A professional songwriter since age 19, Stephenson wrote or co-wrote numerous hits, including BlackHawk's "Every Once In A While," and earned numerous BMI Country and Pop Awards, with five songs certified Million-Airs.

Henry Paul, Van Stephenson and Dave Robbins with gold plaques for their Arista album BlackHawk (1994). photo by Alan Mayor

His BMI Award-winning songs are

  • "All My Life" Country/Pop/Million-Air
  • "Almost A Memory Now" Country/Million-Air
  • "Big Dreams In A Small Town" Country/Million-Air
  • "Bluest Eyes In Texas" Country/Million-Air
  • "Heartbreak Kid" Country Award
  • "If The Fall Don't Get You" Country Award
  • "Til I Loved You" Country/Million-Air
  • "You've Got A Good Love Comin'" Country Award
  • "Your Kisses Will" Country Award

An Ohio native, Stephenson moved to Nashville at age 10. He cut two solo albums as a rock musician in the 1980s but sold his first song to country singer Crystal Gayle. BlackHawk -- the trio of Stephenson, Dave Robbins and Henry Paul -- formed in 1992 on Arista Nashville and proved one of the most successful country groups of the 1990s, with such hits as "Goodbye Says It All" and "That's Just About Right."

Stephenson retired from the band in February 2000.

''We knew we couldn't replace him,'' Robbins said in an interview with The Tennessean. The band elevated bass player Randy Threet to Stephenson's vocal role. ''It would have been very hard to go out and hire somebody,'' said Robbins, a close friend and writing partner for 15 years.

BMI President & CEO Frances Preston grew to know Stephenson first as a writer associated with Warner/ Chappell Music and then as a volunteer entertainer at Country In The Rockies, an annual fundraiser for the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

''He really felt that he was not dying in vain, but that he had made a contribution to others who will develop the same disease,'' she said. ''He will be sorely missed as an artist and even more so for his humanitarian deeds.''

Stephenson, a seminary graduate, also was a minister, said Karen Stephenson, his wife of 25 years. Music, she said, ''took him from the ministry but not his faith.'' He continued to baptize people and teach Bible study until nearly the end of his life, she said.

Besides his wife, Stephenson is survived by three children, Katie Dodson of Spring Hill and Julie and Wes Stephenson of Brentwood.

Visitation is 4-7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10 at Brentwood Funeral Home, 9010 Church Street East, Brentwood. The funeral is at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 11 at Belmont Church in Nashville. Both are open to the public, but the graveside service is private.

Memorials can be sent to the American Cancer Society, attention of Brentwood Relay for Life.

Some information in this article appeared in the April 10 Tennessean.


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