TMSA Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland

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TMSA Newsletter Issue 1 2013
TMSA Newsletter Issue 1 2013

TMSA News Archive

A tribute to Sheila Stewart

The world has lost one of its most iconic singers of traditional music with the death this week of Sheila Stewart, last of the world renowned Stewarts of Blair.

Sheila grew up in a family of travelling people - she was born in a stable that belonged to an hotel in Blairgowrie - whose roots in Scotland have been traced back to the eleventh century

No matter where she was singing, she had the ability to transport you to a campfire with her ethereal voice.

Her mother, Belle, was a great singer and tradition bearer as well as a songwriter, her father, Alec, was a piper and storyteller, and joined by her sister Cathie they played at ceilidhs in village halls all over Scotland. Hamish Henderson "discovered" them in Blairgowrie in the 1950's, and they became famous on both sides of the Atlantic.

I always felt very privileged to be invited to Belle's house in Yeaman St for the frequent ceilidhs, listening to the stories and to "the girls" singing.

Sheila achieved many great things in her life - including singing in the White House for President Gerald Ford, lecturing on travellers' culture at American universities, receiving the MBE - but she told me that her proudest moment was when she sang for Pope John Paul 11 in Bellahouston Park.

The most comical moment, she said, was when she was asked to speak about her life to Blairgowrie WRI, and she watched some of the ladies squirming a bit and not able to meet her eye when she talked about how she was bullied when she was a child - just because she was a traveller.

The Stewarts of Blair were Honorary Members of the TMSA, and Sheila remained a staunch supporter, choosing to end her illustrious career at the now defunct Auchtermuchty Traditional Music Festival.

Sheila died peacefully in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on 9th December, and the funeral service ill be held in Blairgowrie Town Hall on Tuesday 16th December beginning at 10am, followed by interment at Blairgowrie Cemetery at 11am.

A celebration of Sheila's life will then be held in Blairgowrie Town Hall, where I am sure she will be given a fitting and fabulous send-off.

The TMSA passes on condolences to all her family.

She will never be forgotten.

Alison M Mackinnon
TMSA National Vice-Convener and Secretary