Pee Wee King (February 18, 1914 – March 7, 2000) was an American country music songwriter and recording artist best known for co-writing “The Tennessee Waltz”.
Born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a Polish American family he lived in Abrams during his youth. He learned to play the fiddle from his father, who was a professional polka musician. In the 1930s, he toured and made cowboy movies with Gene Autry. King joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1937.
In 1946, while the bandleader of Pee Wee King & His Golden West Cowboys, King, together with the band’s vocalist, Redd Stewart, composed “The Tennessee Waltz”, inspired by “The Kentucky Waltz” by bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. King and Stewart first recorded “The Tennessee Waltz” in 1948, and it went on to become a country music standard.
King’s other songs included “Slow Poke” and “You Belong to Me”, both co-authored with Chilton Price and Redd Stewart. His songs introduced waltzes, polkas, and cowboy songs to country music.
King was not permitted to use the drummer and trumpeter he featured on his stage shows when the band played at the Grand Ole Opry. King refused to change his band’s sound at the Grand Ole Opry, over the years being among the first to introduce or popularize drums (along with Bob Wills, who defied the Opry ban in 1945), horns, the accordion, and electric instruments including the pedal steel guitar to the Opry’s brand of country music. His band also introduced on-stage dancing and Nudie Cohn’s customized ‘rhinestone cowboy’ outfits to the Opry which later became popular with Nashville and country musicians, including Elvis Presley.
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974.
He joined producers Randall Franks and Alan Autry for the In the Heat of the Night cast CD Christmas Time’s A Comin’ performing “Jingle Bells” with the cast released on Sonlite and MGM/UA for one of the most popular Christmas releases of 1991 and 1992 with Southern retailers.
He died of a heart attack in Louisville, Kentucky, at age 86.