D.C. native William Stewart II, widely known as “Billy Stewart,” 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.
“What distinguished Billy Stewart from other Chess artists was his distinctive style,” Robert Pruter, author of “Chicago Soul,” said on the PBS documentary “Fat Boy: The Billy Stewart Story.”
“He sounded like nobody else at Chess Records,” 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 “Sitting in the Park,” “Fat Boy,” “I Do Love You” and a radical interpretation of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
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.
“Billy Stewart was a visionary and an innovator,” said former radio and television announcer Charlie Neal in “The Fat Boy” documentary. “He was a creative genius and a unique talent. He was a legend.”
Source: Washington Informer