Belle Stewart ~ Singer, Poet, and Songwriter

A traditional folk singer, poet and songwriter, Belle Stewart was born in a wee bow tent by the River Tay near Caputh 18 July 1906. She is best known for her time with the Stewarts of Blair and her most famous recording is The Berryfields of Blair – this appears on the album Queen Among the Heathers (1977). She and her family were associated with the work of Hamish Henderson who spent a lot of time recording the songs of the Travelling People in this part of Scotland.

Belle Stewart is a traveller who married a fellow traveller (Alec) in 1925, with whom she had 9 children (5 died in infancy). Her musical repertoire encompasses not just traditional and ancient music but also more classical ballads and songs. Her work is both popular and an important folklore source. She died in September 1997.

“Belle Stewart first came to the attention of folklorists in the mid 1960s when Hamish Henderson, a folk music collector for the School of Scottish Studies, came to Blairgowrie seeking someone who knew the old folksong, “The Berryfields of Blair.” Directed to Belle Stewart, Henderson hit the mother lode. Not only did she know the song, she possessed an extremely vast repertoire of traditional folksongs and ballads and originals that she had written for weddings and other occasions. Henderson was so impressed that he booked time in the studio at the School of Scottish Studies Sound Archives and recorded Stewart singing as many songs as she could remember with her husband, who died of leukemia in 1981, and daughters, Sheila and Cathie. Word of Stewart’s amazing ability to recall songs from the past spread quickly and she was visited frequently by folksong collectors, musicians, and musicologists. When the first Traditional Music and Song Association Festival was held in Blairgowrie, Stewart and her family were featured performers. Their audience was expanded to England after Ewan MacColl featured them in a Radio Ballad. MacColl and his wife and musical collaborator Peggy Seeger later wrote a biography of Stewart and her family, -‘Til Doomsday in the Afternoon, that was published by Manchester University Press.”