Minerva asked about Mama Stewart in our group. I remember wondering the same thing when I first heard the track on Kris’ 2013 Feeling Mortal album. I assumed Mama Stewart was a symbolic or composite character. I could not have been more wrong.
“My ex-husband, Kris Kristofferson, also loved Mama Stewart so much, and he wrote a song called ‘Everything is Beautiful in Mama Stewart’s Eyes.’ Kris came and played the song for my mom, and she wept.” -- Rita Coolidge source
To discover who Mama Stewart is, and why Kris wrote a song about her, we need to go back.
Mama Stewart was related, by marriage, to Kris Kristofferson. To find out more, we go back to 2015 …
February 18-22, 2015. -- Rita Coolidge spoke about Mama Stewart, her grandmother, a folk singer and a real lady.
Ms Coolidge was the keynote speaker at the 27th annual Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
Next, we need to go way, way back … To another century.
The Singing Pioneer
Mama Stewart was born in 1878. Rita is quoted as saying, “She moved from Texas to Tennessee in a covered wagon when she was 12 years old. She wrote songs about that. She wrote songs about her family. She wrote songs about birds. She sang all the time.”
Rita Coolidge told a bit more about her grandmother during her speech in 2015. An article from the time tells --
- Mama Stewart was half Cherokee and half Scottish — an 11th-generation descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.
- Coolidge became increasingly involved in projects that would benefit Native American music, culture and issues. She joined Priscilla and her niece (Priscilla’s daughter) Laura Satterfield to form the group Walela, which is Cherokee for “Hummingbird.”
- As Walela, the family wrote & recorded a CD to record and preserve Mama Stewart’s memory and legacy. Rita is quoted in an article as saying, “We wrote songs about the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears -- And we wrote songs about the way life is for Indians today.”
- The family were able to use Mama Stewart’s own voice from recordings she made in ’73. Using technology, they were able to sing with her on their song, ‘I’ll Turn My Radio On.’ Rita refers to Mama Stewart as, “the greatest of folk singers.”
Mama Stewart -- Lyrics by Kris Kristofferson
(from the Feeling Mortal album)
It was kinda hard believing
Mama Stewart couldn’t see me then
Or even that her age was ninety-four
‘Cause the years that took her sight away
Had given her the right to say
What she believed, and she did -- Praise the Lord
And the things she said reminded me
Of things I’d grown too blind to see
And feelings that I’d hidden deep inside
And when she said goodbye and kissed me
I was thankful she couldn’t see
The sudden tears I couldn’t hide
Everything is beautiful in Mama Stewart’s eyes
Another shining reason to believe
Everything is new and full of wonder and surprise
Inside the world that Mama Stewart sees
She rode the covered wagons west
When she was only seven
But she came to California on a plane
She said at ninety-four she thought for sure
She’d got too close to heaven
And like as not was going all the way
But the miracle of medicine
And good old time religion
Removed the veil of darkness from her eyes
They said she praised the Lord
And thanked the doctor
And didn’t even seem at all surprised
Booker T Jones
Although Kristofferson’s Mama Stewart was released in 2013, it is unclear when the song was written. Booker T Jones released a song about her in 1974 which also mentions how she regained her sight after
Booker T Jones was Kris Kristofferson’s brother in law for a time. Jim Marshall shared a lovely family photograph of the group taken in 1972, a short time before Booker T Jones released his song
Rita Coolidge -- Native American Culture
Rita Coolidge often refers to heritage when she speaks about her love for music. In the ’90s, she started devoting more time of her time and attention to promoting Native American culture.
Rita’s family singing trio,
In 2002, the group performed with Robbie Robertson as part of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics.
Native American Music Award
Rita Coolidge has received numerous Native American Music Awards -- Including:
A Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, Blues/Jazz recording award in 2006, Best Female in 2014 and best pop recording in 2018.
Kristofferson / Coolidge
In 2015, Rita Coolidge joined Kris backstage around a year after the tragedy that ended Priscilla’s life. It is clear that the once-married couple continue to share similar concerns around injustice, art and human rights.
The real star is Mama Stewart herself. It is heartwarming to see how family and friends received so much inspiration from a lady who was so dearly loved and respected.
They have used their own art and talent to preserve memories that I believe will continue to inspire even more people over time.
Kris Kristofferson’s song certainly led me to learn about this well-loved woman.
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