Musician and singer Billy Stewart had a profound impact on rhythm and blues in the 1950s and 1960s.
Musician and singer Billy Stewart had a profound impact on rhythm and blues in the 1950s and 1960s.

D.C. native William Stewart II, widely known as 鈥淏illy Stewart,鈥 had a profound influence on the national music scene through his rhythm and blues tunes.

Stewart, born in 1937, started his music career with his four brothers in a group known as the Four Stewart Brothers. Stewart would perform with his brothers at the DMV-based WUST studios. He eventually served as a fill-in for a group known as The Rainbows. Through the Rainbows, he met singer Bo Diddley. It was Diddley who invited Stewart to be a backup musician in his group. Stewart left the District and went to Chicago with Diddley and soon started singing on his own at Chess Records.

鈥淲hat distinguished Billy Stewart from other Chess artists was his distinctive style,鈥 Robert Pruter, author of 鈥淐hicago Soul,鈥 said on the PBS documentary 鈥淔at Boy: The Billy Stewart Story.鈥 

鈥淗e sounded like nobody else at Chess Records,鈥 Pruter explained.

Stewart was noted for his skill in word doubling, scatting and riffing in songs. Throughout the years, he received recognition for songs such as 鈥淪itting in the Park,鈥 鈥淔at Boy,鈥 鈥淚 Do Love You鈥 and a radical interpretation of George Gershwin鈥檚 鈥淪ummertime.鈥

Stewart died in a broad daylight car accident in North Carolina in January 1970 at the age of 32. He is buried in National Harmony Memorial Park in Landover, Maryland. Stewart was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2021.

鈥淏illy Stewart was a visionary and an innovator,鈥 said former radio and television announcer Charlie Neal in 鈥淭he Fat Boy鈥 documentary. 鈥淗e was a creative genius and a unique talent. He was a legend.鈥

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the 番茄社区app. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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