The St. Louis old-time music scene, as well as family, coworkers, and friends, were saddened by the passing of old-time fiddler Bill Stewart, 68, on March 14, 2020, after a brief illness.
Bill, or “Griz”, was an early member of the old-time music scene in St. Louis and was present at and part of its creation. In the early 1970s he helped organize Childgrove Country Dancers, still going strong today. He was on the board of the Folk School. He loved to play the fiddle and often seemed tireless, which was evident at the festivals he attended. He went to every festival he could and loved entering the band and fiddle contests. Although he never won, he had a great time trying. He was a member of several bands over the years, such as the Mississippi Mudcats, the Road Kill Ramblers, and most recently the Mound City Slickers, with whom he recorded 2 CDs.
Bill excelled at several careers as a young man, including, among others, mechanical engineering. He then went to law school and practiced law the remainder of his life. Due to career and family obligations, he didn’t fiddle for 18 years, but never lost the love of it. Later when time allowed he began playing again as much as he could. Bill loved studying, listening to, and playing old-time music, and rarely missed a gathering or jam session in the St. Louis area. He could play mandolin and guitar but his real love was the fiddle. He was of the old school, self-taught, and didn’t read “dots.” He had a knack for getting to the heart of a tune without embellishment. He played with and learned from some of the best old-time Missouri fiddlers, like Pete McMahan and Art Galbraith, and younger players such as Geoff Seitz and Charlie Walden, both longtime friends. He welcomed young players and mentored and supported them wholeheartedly. He took particular pride in being one of the many musicians who early on helped nurture Roger Netherton’s playing.
Bill was born in Delaware, the son of an FBI agent whose work took him to many cities, finally settling in St. Louis. Bill was a man with a quick and intelligent mind, an indomitable spirit, a fully developed sense of humor, and varied interests, the foremost being fiddling. He both loved and hated politics. Although he hadn’t practiced it for years he had a black belt in karate. He owned his own sailboat and was an avid sailor. He loved cars, particularly Porsches, owning two. He was deeply invested in and proud of his Welsh ancestry, attempting to learn the language and visiting relatives there several times. He was married to Lizzie, who is a native of England. This circumstance occasionally resulted in “friendly” discussions of old stereotypes between the two countries.
He was devoted to his children and grandchildren. He was very proud about his grandson Tucker’s learning to play the violin through the Suzuki method. Bill eagerly helped teach him and participated in lessons and performed concerts with him.
Bill played his last performance with the Mound City Slickers on January 31, 2020. After that he was unable to play, but insisted he would be back playing again in a few weeks. Sadly he wasn’t able. His family, friends, and the entire St. Louis old-time music population grieve his passing. He will be remembered for his fiddling and love of old-time music, and for being a gracious, kind, thoughtful, fun-loving, and dedicated man, a true bonheddwyr.