Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 20 July 1918, Mart TX; d 23 March 2006, Mexia TX) Country singer and songwriter; probably the most successful female songwriter of all time. She was a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. A pretty girl who could sing, Walker had her own big hit in the Country chart in 1944 with her own song, 'When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again' (later covered by Elvis Presley), but she found her greatest success in songwriting from the beginning.

Walker’s grandfather, F. P. Eiland, was a composer of hymns ('Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand'), and her mother, Oree, was an accomplished pianist. She began writing as a teenager, sang professionally in Texas, and went to Hollywood in 1940, just as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was about to strike against the broadcasters. A rival performing rights organization, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), had already been set up, and everybody was looking for new songs and songwriters not associated with ASCAP. The strike started at the end of 1940; Walker joined BMI, got a recording contract with Decca, made the first Soundie musical short film, 'Seven Beers With The Wrong Man', and placed a song with Bing Crosby ('Lone Star Trail'), all in 1940-41. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded 'Cherokee Maiden', 'Blue Bonnet Lane', 'It's All Your Fault', and 'Dusty Skies' all in July 1941 (the records could be played on the radio; ASCAP songs could not). The ASCAP strike was soon lost, but Walker's prolific talent kept her going: in 1942 she was hired to write all the songs for eight quickie cowboy movies (called 'eight-day wonders'), all starring Wills and his band.

The Billboard Country charts began in January 1944 with a 'Most Played Juke Box Folk Records' list; the list of retail best-selling 'Folk' records began in May 1948. In the 1940s Walker songs were chart hits by Wills ('Bubbles In My Beer' and 'You're From Texas'), Gene Autry ('Silver Spurs'), Al Dexter ('Triflin' Gal'), Ernest Tubb ('Warm Red Wine'), George Morgan ('I Love Everything About You') and Eddy Arnold ('Take Me in Your Arms And Hold Me'). In the 1950s Ernest Tubb had two hits with Walker songs ('Two Glasses, Joe' and 'Hey, Mr Bluebird'), as did Hank Snow ('The Gold Rush Is Over' and 'The Next Voice You Hear'); Eddy Arnold had one with 'You Don't Know Me' and Jim Reeves with 'Anna Marie', and Webb Pierce had the number one country record for 12 weeks in 1955 with Walker's 'I Don't Care.' In the 1960s the Walker hits included 'Heaven Says Hello' by Sonny James, 'Fifteen Days' by Wilma Burgess, 'Leona' by Stonewall Jackson, 'You Are My Treasure' by Jack Greene and 'Distant Drums' by Reeves, the last two reaching no. 1. Also in the 1960s, Walker's talent and business sense saw her crossing over to the pop chart, with hits by the Ames Brothers ('China Doll'), Jerry Wallace ('In The Misty Moonlight'), and Roy Orbison ('Dream Baby', covered many times).

Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Lacy J. Dalton, Merle Haggard, Dean Martin, Kitty Wells, George Jones, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Roy Rogers, the Sons Of The Pioneers, Asleep At The Wheel and Riders In The Sky are among the many who have recorded Walker songs. 'You Don't Know Me' was revived in 1956 by Jerry Vale, in 1960 by Lenny Welch, in 1962 by Ray Charles, in 1967 by Presley and in 1987 by Mickey Gilley, for hit singles each time. In 1998 Southland Records issued Close to You: A Twenty Song Salute to the Music of Cindy Walker by Leon Rausch, who had sung with Wills; just a few days before she died, Willie Nelson released You Don't Know Me: The Songs Of Cindy Walker.