Not long ago, I watched a television program, discussing great songwriters in the history of country music. Undoubtedly, there have been many. However, when it comes to female songwriters, the name of Cindy Walker stands tall.
At first, Walker’s talents seem to go other directions. By the age of 7, the Texas native was singing and dancing at the Toy Land Review. In her teens, she added playing guitar to her repertoire. At 16, she was a featured dancer at Billy Rose’s Casa De Manana in Fort Worth. Among her first attempts at songwriting was the program’s theme song.
In 1941, Bing Crosby recorded Walker’s “Lone Star Trail.” That same year, she was signed to a recording contract with Decca Records, charting with “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again.”
Also in 1941, she began a working relationship with Western Swing legend Bob Wills. One week after meeting Walker, Wills recorded five of her songs, including “Cherokee Maiden,” “Don’t Count You Chickens” and “Dusty Skies.” The relationship between Walker and Wills continued for many years. In all, he recorded more than 50 of her songs. Those include “Sugar Moon,” “Bubbles in My Beer,” “Warm Red Wine” and “Born to Love You.”
From the mid to late 1940s, several artists had hit singles with Walker’s compositions. Popular recordings were “Silver Spurs (On the Golden Stairs)” by Gene Autry; “Triflin’ Gal” by Al Dexter; “Oklahoma Waltz” by Johnny Bond; and “I Love Everything About You,” by George Morgan.
The decade of the 1950s proved to be just as fertile for Walker. Eddy Arnold scored big with two of her tunes, “Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me” and “You Don’t Know Me.” Other Walker gems in that period include “Thank You for Calling” by Billy Walker; “Two Glasses Joe,” by Ernest Tubb; “I Don’t Care,” by Webb Pierce; and “Anna Marie” by Jim Reeves.
As the country music landscape embraced what it known as the Nashville Sound, Walker’s songs continued to fit just as well in the 1960s. This era spawned hits like “Leona” by Stonewall Jackson; “Not That I Care” by the Wilburn Brothers; “Heaven Says Hello” by Sonny James; and “You Are My Treasure” by Jack Greene.
The 1960s also featured several pop performers tasting success with Walker’s tunes, such as “You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles; “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” by Roy Orbison; and “In the Misty Moonlight,” which was recorded by both by Jerry Wallace and Dean Martin.
To prove that Walker’s songs have stood the test of time, countless artists in the 1970s and 1980s revived some of her past classics. Those reprised include “Cherokee Maiden” by Merle Haggard; “You Don’t Know Me” by Mickey Gilley; and “I Don’t Care” by Ricky Skaggs.
In her career, Walker found time to pen a hymn book, Of Thee We Sing. Also, her composition, “Christian Cowboy,” was featured in the Broadway production Smoke on the Water.
In 1997, Walker was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, delivering one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time. In 2002, Country Music Television named her one of the 40 Greatest Women of Country. In 2006, Willie Nelson paid tribute to her with an entire album of her material, “You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker.” One week after that album was released, the famed songwriter died at the age of 87.
Initially, she set out to be a star in Hollywood. Thankfully for all of us music lovers, her keen sense of writing great songs was discovered. Due to her extensive catalog of songs, Walker’s one-of-a-kind talent will never be forgotten.
Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.