Pee Wee King, a songwriter, singer and bandleader who co-wrote the “Tennessee Waltz,” died March 7 in Louisville, Ky., after suffering a heart attack late last month. He was 86.
King enjoyed his greatest successes as a songwriter. Besides co-writing the “Tennessee Waltz” with Redd Stewart, he wrote such hits as “Slow Poke,” “Walk Me by the River” and “Napoleon’s Retreat.”
Patti Page turned the “Tennessee Waltz” into a hit when she recorded it on the flip side of her 1947 disc featuring “Santa Claus Boogie.” The waltz later became the state song of Tennessee.
Born Frank Kuynski in Milwaukee, King began his career playing accordion with local polka bands and then moved to country music, in part because he and cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry got to know each other when both performed on the same Chicago radio station.
As a performer, King was a regular on the Knoxville radio program “Mid-Day Merry Go Round” in 1936 and joined the “Golden West Cowboys” band. He became leader of the group that helped launch the careers of crooner Eddy Arnold, honky-tonk singer Cowboy Copas and singer Ernest Tubb.
King’s group became the first full-time band for the Grand Ole Opry in 1937, when Opry performers were part-timers who often held other jobs to make ends meet.
King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974.
He is survived by his wife, a daughter and three sons.