Birth: 07-20-1918 - Death: 03-23-2006 | Birthplace: Mart, Texas
Perhaps the finest female composer in country music history, Cindy Walker became a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Renowned for her ability to tailor songs for diverse stylists, she has had Top Ten hits during each of the five decades spanning the 1940s through the 1980s. Her credits include such country standards as “Cherokee Maiden” and such as “You Don’t Know Me.”
Walker’s grandfather F. L. Eiland was a hymn writer of note (“Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand”), and her mother, Oree, was an accomplished pianist. After appearing in Texas stage shows, Walker traveled to Hollywood. She successfully pitched tunes to Bing Crosby, landed a 1941 Decca contract, filmed the first Soundie musical short (“Seven Beers With the Wrong Man,” 1941), scored a Top Ten singing hit (“When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” 1944).
Walker had a star’s looks, but set aside her performing career to concentrate on composing. Gene Autry popularized her “Blue Canadian Rockies,” Al Dexter sang “Triflin’ Gal,” and the Ames Brothers did “China Doll.” One of her regular California customers was Bob Wills, for whom she wrote more than fifty numbers, including “Cherokee Maiden,” “Bubbles in My Beer,” and “You’re From Texas.” Ernest Tubb also relied on her, recording “Warm Red Wine,” “Two Glasses Joe,” and “Hey Mr. Bluebird,” among others.
In 1954 Walker returned to Texas and thereafter divided her time between the town of Mexia and Nashville. Her 1950s classics include Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” and “Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me,” Hank Snow’s “The Gold Rush Is Over” and “The Next Voice You Hear,” George Morgan’s “I Love Everything About You,” Webb Pierce’s “I Don’t Care,” and Jim Reeves’s “Anna Marie.”
In the 1960s Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream),” Jim Reeves’s “Distant Drums,” Jerry Wallace’s “In the Misty Moonlight,” Jack Greene’s “You Are My Treasure,” Sonny James’s “Heaven Says Hello,” Wilma Burgess’s “Fifteen Days,” and Stonewall Jackson’s “Leona” all became sizable Walker songwriting hits.
Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Ray Charles, Lacy J. Dalton, Riders in the Sky, Mickey Gilley, and Merle Haggard are among those who kept her songwriting legacy alive in subsequent decades. Ill health and the death of her accompanist mother in 1991 slowed Walker, but Willie Nelson’s album You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway, 2006) reminded the industry of her achievements. The album was released just days before Walker’s death after a long illness in Mexia, Texas. - Robert K. Oermann
- Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.