Songwriters Friends



Pee Wee King was an unlikely candidate for country music stardom. Yet as a songwriter, bandleader, recording artist, and television entertainer, he broke new ground in country music, and he helped to bring waltzes, polkas, and cowboy songs into mainstream country music during ten productive years at the Grand Ole Opry.

Born Frank Julius Anthony Kuczynski into a working-class Polish-German family, he grew up in the polka-and-waltz culture of Wisconsin. His musical debut occurred at age fifteen, when he played the accordion in his father’s polka band. He changed his name to King (after the then popular polka performer Wayne King) and formed his own high school band, Frankie King & the King’s Jesters. In 1933 young Frankie King joined the Badger State Barn Dance and soon had his own radio show on WJRN in Racine.

King’s lucky break came in the spring of 1934, when he met promoter J. L. Frank. He moved with Frank to Louisville in 1934 to back up Gene Autry for a time, joined Frankie More’s Log Cabin Boys as accordionist on WHAS radio, and in 1936 married Joe Frank’s stepdaughter Lydia.

In 1936 King was in Knoxville performing on WNOX. In 1937 he formed the Golden West Cowboys and moved to Nashville to begin a ten-year run on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, with the exception of 1940, when he worked primarily out of Louisville. In 1941 - 1942 he and his band were featured with the Camel Caravan, a WSM touring company that presented some 175 shows at military installations in the United States and Central America. At various times his band included Eddy Arnold, Redd Stewart, Ernest Tubb, Cowboy Copas, and Minnie Pearl.

After joining the Grand Ole Opry in June 1937, King helped introduce an array of new instruments and sounds to that program’s stage, including the trumpet, drums, and the electric guitar. In addition, he dressed his band members in spiffy western outfits designed by the Hollywood tailor Nudie. His nattily attired Golden West Cowboys generally produced a smooth and danceable sound during their heyday in the 1940s; in the 1950s they even branched out briefly into mild rockabilly.

He wrote or co-wrote more than 400 songs, including some of the most popular songs in American musical history, notably “Slow Poke” (a #1 pop hit for fourteen weeks in 1951) with Chilton Price and the hugely successful “Tennessee Waltz” with Redd Stewart. Patti Page’s 1950 version of the latter song was #1 on the pop charts and within six months sold almost 5 million copies. It became an official Tennessee state song in 1965. His own recording career included more than twenty albums and 157 singles, most of them issued during his seventeen-year association with RCA Victor. With the release of his recording of “Slow Poke” in 1951, he became one of the first country musicians to cross over successfully into the pop field.

King became also a pioneer television performer when in 1947 he returned to Louisville to work on WAVE radio and television. In the fifties and sixties he had regional and national TV shows originating from Louisville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Chicago, including a six-year run of The Pee Wee King Show on ABC television.

He appeared in four movies: Gold Mine in the Sky with Gene Autry in 1938; Flame of the West with Johnny Mack Brown in 1945; and Ridin’ the Outlaw Trail (1951) and The Rough, Tough West (1952) with Charles Starrett. In 1967 he released his own production, Country-Western Hoedown, an artistic and financial disaster.

In 1974 King was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Artists

American Quartet
Andrews Sisters
Louis Armstrong (Satchmo)
Fred Astaire
Chet Atkins
Gene Austin (Voice of the Southland)
Gene Autry
Nora Bayes
Brook Benton
Ben Bernie
Connee Boswell
Fanny Brice
Henry Burr
Cab Calloway
Glen Campbell
Albert Campbell
Carter Family (First Family of Country Music)
Enrico Caruso
Ray Charles
Patsy Cline
Larry Clinton
Rosemary Clooney
Nat Cole (King)
Arthur Collins
Perry Como
Bing Crosby
Bob Crosby
Frank Crumit
Vic Damone
Sammy Davis Jr.
Doris Day
Tommy Dorsey
Jimmy Dorsey
Cliff Edwards
Ruth Etting
Shep Fields
Eddie Fisher
Ella Fitzgerald
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Connie Francis
Aretha Franklin (Queen of Soul)
Lefty Frizzell
Jan Garber
Judy Garland
George J. Gaskin (The Silver Voice Irish Tenor)
Marvin Gaye
Benny Goodman (King of Swing)
Glen Gray
Byron G. Harlan
Marion Harris
Charles Harrison
Haydn Quartet
Dick Haymes
Horace Heidt
Woody Herman
Billie Holiday (Lady Day)
Whitney Houston
Eddy Howard
Ink Spots
Harry James
Lewis James
Al Jolson
Ada Jones
George Jones
Sammy Kaye
Hal Kemp
Wayne King (Waltz King)
Pee Wee King
Kay Kyser
Frankie Laine
Brenda Lee
Ted Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis (The Killer)
Guy Lombardo
Vincent Lopez
Harry MacDonough
Freddy Martin
Dean Martin
Johnny Mathis
John McCormack
Glenn Miller
Mills Brothers
Vaughn Monroe
Russ Morgan
Billy Murray (The Denver Nightingale)
J.W. Myers
Ozzie Nelson
Olivia Newton-John
George Olsen
Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Vess L. Ossman (The King of the Banjo)
Buck Owens
Patti Page
Minnie Pearl
Peerless Quartet
Peter, Paul & Mary
Elvis Presley (The King)
Ray Price
Prince's Orchestra
Dan Quinn
Leo Reisman
Paul Robeson
Roy Rogers
Linda Ronstadt
Diana Ross
Ben Selvin
Artie Shaw
Nat Shilkret
Dinah Shore
Frank Sinatra
Bessie Smith (Empress of the Blues)
Sousa's Band
Len Spencer
Dusty Springfield
Jo Stafford
Frank Stanley
Kay Starr
Cal Stewart
Barbra Streisand
The 4 Seasons
The 5th Dimension
The Byrds
The Carter Family
The Commodores
The Drifters
The Everly Brothers
The Four Tops
The Impressions
The Miracles
The Platters
The Righteous Brothers
The Spinners
The Supremes
The Temptations
Ernest Tubb (Texas Troubadour)
Sophie Tucker
Van & Schenck
Walter Van Brunt
Sarah Vaughan
Fred Waring
Dionne Warwick
Ted Weems
Kitty Wells
Paul Whiteman
Margaret Whiting
Bert Williams
Andy Williams
Teddy Wilson
Tammy Wynette