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Pee Wee King

Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski
March 6, 2000
Age 86

Heart Attack

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  Musician Pee Wee King Dies

 By THOMAS S. WATSON Associated Press Writer  

 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Frank ``Pee Wee'' King, who co-wrote the ``Tennessee Waltz'' and introduced electric instruments and horns to the Grand Ole Opry, died Tuesday at 86. 

 King had been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack Feb. 28. 

 Born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski in Abrams, Wis., King wrote ``Tennessee Waltz'' with fellow band member Red Stewart in 1947. The two said they wrote it on an unfolded matchbox as they were riding in Stewart's truck. 

 While King's recording did well, a version of the song by Patti Page became a No. 1 pop hit and sold 65 million copies. It became the state song of Tennessee in 1965. 

 In 1974, King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

 ``I learned a lot about showmanship from him,'' said country music singer Eddy Arnold, who played in King's band, the  Golden West Cowboys, in the 1940s. 

 King and the band appeared in several of Gene Autry's movies. They also appeared in Westerns with Charles Starret, the Durango Kid, and Johnny Mack Brown. The band members were written into the script so they could perform the smooth, Western swing music that was their trademark. 

 Funeral services were scheduled for Saturday. 

    
  Hall of Famer Pee Wee King, 86, died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack last week. The Milwaukee native is best known as the co-writer of "Tennessee Waltz," the state song. 
  
King passed away peacefully in his sleep from complications of a stroke and heart attack. His family was at his side. His funeral will be held Saturday in Louisville. 
  
King was born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski into a workingclass Polish-German family in Milwaukee. He started by playing polka at 15 in his father's band, but later joined the Badger State Barn Dance under the name Frankie King, naming himself after a popular polka performer, 
Wayne King. 
    
He moved to Louisville where he backed up Gene Autry and made his way to Nashville where he had a 10-year stint on the Grand Ole Opry. He introduced new instruments to the Opry, including trumpet, electric guitar and drums. His band was decked out in western clothing designed by famous Hollywood tailor Nudie. 
    
Among those in his band were Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Cowboy Copas and Minnie Pearl.  King wrote the ``Tennessee Waltz'' with Redd Stewart in 1947. The song became a big hit after 
Patti Page recorded it. 
   
King also wrote "Slow Poke," a number one pop hit for 14 weeks in 1951, "Walk Me By the 
River" and "Bonaparte's Retreat." 
   
He joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974.  
   
During his career, King recorded more than 20 albums and 157 singles. 
  
~Country Standard Time
 
NY TIMES
        
 Pee Wee King, 86, `Tennessee Waltz' Writer

          By NEIL STRAUSS 

               Pee Wee King, an eclectic and innovative country music entertainer who was a writer of the pop classic "Tennessee Waltz," died on Tuesday at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky. He was 86.  

          Born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski in Abrams, Wis., he began his musical career in the least country way imaginable: playing accordion and concertina in his father's polka band. In the early 1930's he met and performed with Gene Autry before Autry became a star in Hollywood westerns.  

          After working with Autry, he changed his name to Pee Wee King and settled in Louisville. He formed a band, the Golden West Cowboys, which joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1937.  

          At the Opry he developed a reputation as an entertainer and an innovator, the two often going hand in hand. Instead of pretending to be hillbillies, the members of his band dressed in flamboyant outfits designed by Nudie the Rodeo Tailor. Mr. King was also unafraid of using nontraditional instrumentation in the band, including trumpet, drums and electric guitar. In addition, the band added polkas and waltzes to the more traditional country fare.  

          In the 1940's performers like Eddy Arnold, Cowboy Copas, Ernest Tubb and even Minnie Pearl appeared with Mr. King's band, but one of its most important members was the vocalist Redd Stewart. Mr. King wrote at least four songs celebrating Tennessee, including "Tennessee Polka," "Tennessee Tears" (with Ernie Lee) and "Tennessee Tango" (with Mr. Stewart). Then, inspired in part by Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz," Mr. King and Mr. Stewart wrote "Tennessee Waltz" in 1946 and recorded it two years later for RCA Victor. Patti Page's 1950 recording of the song for the Mercury label sold some three million copies, becoming one of the best-selling singles of its time. Fifteen years later "Tennessee Waltz" became an official song of the State of Tennessee.  

          In 1951 Mr. King recorded his only personal No. 1 hit, the novelty song "Slow Poke," written with Redd Stewart and Chilton Price. It became a million-record seller for RCA Victor. The trio also wrote the 1952 hit "You Belong to Me," which was recorded for Columbia by Jo Stafford and sold two million copies. It was successfully revived 10 years later by the doo-wop group the Duprees.  

          In 1955 Mr. King was host of his own musical variety show for ABC television, "The Pee Wee King Show." He also appeared in several Westerns. Over the course of his career, he wrote or co-wrote more than 400 songs.  

          In 1969 he left the Golden West Cowboys to become a director for the Country Music Foundation. He also worked at other jobs in the country music business. In 1974 Mr. King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  

          He is survived by his wife, the former Lydia Frank, of Louisville; a daughter, Marietta Wuchterl; three sons, Frank Jr., Gene C. and Larry L. King; a brother, Ervin Kuczynski; a sister, Irene Cetnarowski; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. 

 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
 
 As an instrumentalist, bandleader, actor, songwriter, and business man, Pee Wee King has had  a long and varied career. Born Julius Frank Kuczynski in 1914 in Wisconsin, he learned concertina, fiddle and accordian while playing in his father's polka band. After graduation, while fronting his own band, he met Gene Autry; the future cowboy star was hosting his own program on Chicago's WLS and offered King an opportunity to back him. By 1934, Autry and King moved to WHAS Louisville, but after less than a year, Autry departed for Hollywood. 

 After a year spent playing with Frankie More's Log Cabin Boys, Pee Wee King formed his own Golden West Cowboys with vocalist Texas Daisy, fiddler Abner Sims and guitarist Curly Rhodes. King ran a tight ship, organizing arrangements and intricate stage shows which promoted the band well around the Louisville area. By 1937, the Golden West Cowboys had accepted a spot on the Grand Ole Opry. 
  
 During the early-to-mid-'40s, King's band proved an important breeding ground for vocalists; in the span of just five years, Eddy Arnold, Milton Estes, Cowboy Copas and Tommy Sosebee all spent time with the Golden West Cowboys. Redd Stewart, who had joined in 1937 and outlasted them all, became the star of the show on King's charting hits, beginning with the number-three hit "Tennessee Waltz" in 1948. During the next six years, the Golden West Cowboys hit the Top 15 ten times in succession. King's only number one, "Slow Poke," was a giant hit in 1951 -- it spent 15 weeks at number one and crossed over to number one pop as well (for three weeks). 

 Though the band failed to chart after 1954, King continued to lead the Golden West Cowboys until 1969, when he retired to work on the business side of country. A past director of the Country Music Foundation, Pee Wee King was inducted into both the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and, in 1974, the Country Music Hall of Fame. -- Jim Worbois, All Music Guide

  
 

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          SONGS
1. Doghouse Blues
2. You Tried to Ruin My Name
3. Get Together Polka
4. Western Limited
5. Tain't What You Want
 
 
 
 
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