Fans and friends are mourning the death of Louisiana music icon Maggie Lewis Warwick, who died March 29 in Shreveport, La., from pneumonia.
“I’ve known Maggie Warwick since I was just a kid and I can honestly say she was one of the sweetest people I have ever known,” Grammy-nominated blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd tells Billboard. “Maggie’s excitement and passion for music, and in particular, the music from the Shreveport area was infectious. Maggie was an early believer in me and my talent and was an inspiring teacher. Her remarkable history as a singer, songwriter and performer was formidable and she was always there to encourage me — even performing a duet with me at one of my first recording sessions. I will always be grateful for her guidance through the years.”
Born in Snyder, Texas, more than 70 years ago, Margaret Ann Lewis launched her first band in high school, Maggie Lewis and the Thunderbolts, which would later include Johnny Winter on lead guitar. Early in her career, the West Texas native sang with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and traveled to Chicago with her sister Rose to work with producer Leonard Chess at Chess Records.
She moved to Shreveport and became a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride, joining the cast in 1958. When the original Hayride closed in 1960, she moved to Nashville and established herself as a successful singer and songwriter, penning the Narvel Felts hit “Reconsider Me” and Jeannie C. Riley’s “The Girl Most Likely,” “Oh Singer” and “There Never Was a Time.” A seven-time BMI Award winner, her songs were recorded by a variety of artists including Connie Francis, Bruce Willis, Delaney and Bonnie, David Houston and Loretta Lynn. In addition to penning hits for others, she toured internationally and was dubbed “the female Elvis” by British press.
Lewis Warwick returned to Shreveport in 1981 where she and her husband Alton operated the Ram Records label, which had six songs in this year’s Oscar-winning film Green Book. At the time of her death, Warwick was working on a gospel project of her original songs, as well as planning to write a book on the history of the Louisiana Hayride.
Known as “The Cradle of the Stars,” the Louisiana Hayride was originally broadcast from the Municipal Auditorium from 1948 to 1960 and helped launch the careers of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Faron Young, Johnny Horton and many others. Lewis Warwick’s love and support for the Hayride continued throughout her life. She and her husband formed a nonprofit in 1997 and successfully fought to prevent the Louisiana Hayride’s original home, Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium, from being destroyed. They had plans to re-launch the Hayride.
“The argument has been made that the Louisiana Hayride could actually qualify as the Holy Grail of rock ‘n roll,” she told Billboard in 2015 at a press conference for the Hayride. “That’s where it happened. It’s amazing the story of how the evolution of American music came about the and influence of this area and the music that was made here.”
A passionate philanthropist, she was the founder and producer of a local telethon that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sister Margaret’s Christian Services. Appointed chairman of the Louisiana Music Commission by Governors Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, and Bobby Jindal, Lewis Warwick was a tireless supporter of Louisiana music and worked hard to preserve its history.
Appropriately enough, a celebration of Lewis Warwick’s life was held Tuesday (April 2) at Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium.