Column by Nick Clooney
We're a day away from the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival which, as some of you know, will feature top performers from the "Down From the Mountain" country music tour tomorrow night in Maysville.
That got me to thinking about one of the most interesting conversations I've had in a long time, and it had a country music connection.
"Fly the ocean on a silver plane,
"See the jungle when it's wet with rain..."
Remember? "You Belong to Me," words and music by Chilton Price, who still lives in Louisville and is still writing music.
Ms. Price gave me a direct insight into a part of the music business I had only heard of second-hand. You will note in the previous paragraph I wrote "words and music by Chilton Price."
That is not what it says on the record, nor on the "Variety" profile of the song. It lists the composers as Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart and Chilton Price.
As background, Pee Wee King was a very fine country-western music performer. His featured singer was Redd Stewart. In 1948, Mr. King and Mr. Stewart were credited with writing "Tennessee Waltz," which became hugely successful when it was later recorded by Patti Page.
In the meantime, Mr. King, who appeared regularly on Nashville's "Grand Ole Opry," also had his own show on Louisville radio and television.
Louisville was Chilton Price's home town, and therein lies our tale. Ms. Price wrote songs, mostly as a hobby. She worked in the same broadcasting station as Mr. King and Mr. Stewart and, in 1951, she wrote a song that she thought described her friend Pee Wee King very well. She called it "Slowpoke." Mr. King loved it and in very short order recorded it, with Redd Stewart on the vocal.
The result was the only No. 1 mainstream chart hit Pee Wee King ever had. It became a catalyst for lucrative personal appearances around the country. However, "Slowpoke" listed its composers as "King-Stewart-Price."
Did they write any lyrics? "Not a word," said Chilton Price cheerfully.
Did they write any of the music? "Not a note."
Ms. Price was speaking on the phone from her Louisville home for an interview on my WSAI morning radio show.
Wasn't she upset by the two men claiming authorship of her song? "Not at all," responded Chilton. "I didn't know anything about the music business. If they hadn't pushed it, there probably would have been no record at all. I'm grateful to them."
There was more to come the very next year. Ms. Price had written a lovely song that she hoped had possibilities.
The pattern had already been set. King-Stewart-Price. She wrote the song. They promoted it and "cut-in" on the credit and the profits.
Most of us, I think, would find that unfair. Mr. Pee Wee King has been lauded as the composer of "You Belong to Me," which has shown up in movies as long ago as 1953's "Forbidden" and as recently as 2001's "Shrek."
"Nick, I had a wonderful time. I had lunch with Mitch Miller in New York City. I wrote more songs. People praised my work. I even wrote a song for Doris Day that she sang in a movie. The way I see it, none of that would have happened without Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart. I'm grateful to them."
Chilton Price has an admirable generosity of spirit. My own view is that there ought to be two levels of ownership of copyright laws. Those who actually created the material should have primacy. Those who helped publish or promote it should get that commercial credit only.
Let it be said, at least this once, in print for all the world to see. Ms. Chilton Price of Louisville, Kentucky, wrote every word and every note of the quintessential 1950s love song "You Belong to me." No one else.
Nick Clooney writes for The Post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him in care of The Post at 125 E. Court St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. E-mails sent to Nick at email@example.com will be forwarded to him via regular mail.