Margaret Warwick, an acclaimed Shreveport, Louisiana singer, songwriter, producer, publisher, and trail blazing music executive, died March 29, after a brief illness. She was 79. Lewis was a former chairperson of the Louisiana Music Commission, and a recipient of the 2009 OffBeat’s Best of the Beat Lifetime Achievement award for music business. New Orleans’s Johnny Adams once cited Lewis as his favorite songwriter.
Born in West Texas as Margaret Lewis, she developed an early interest in country, rock ’n’ roll and especially R&B.“I had my own band in high school called Margaret Lewis and the Thunderbolts,” recalls Lewis. “I sang the songs of the great R&B artists, such as LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown.”
Lewis also fell under the spell of a young Elvis Presley, who she saw perform at the Louisiana Hayride (“the cradle for the stars”). “He left me stunned and mesmerized by his singing and those movements,” Warwick said of The King.
After placing second in a Lubbock talent show in April 1957, Lewis earned a guest appearance on the Louisiana Hayride at Shreveport, with Johnny Horton. Broadcast over 50,000 watt radio station KWEM, Lewis became a regular on the Hayride until 1960. Via the Hayride, Lewis was introduced to Mira Smith who owed a studio and a small local label called Ram Records. Smith was a guitarist and songwriter who took Lewis under her wing. Between 1959 and 1961, Smith produced a clutch of Lewis’ singles on Ram that did well in the Arkansas/Louisiana/Texas triangle.
In 1964, Lewis signed with Hollywood’s Capitol label, releasing a handful country singles. Lewis hit the purple match when she and Smith moved to Nashville and started a songwriting partnership. Their early successes included Margaret Whiting’s “I Almost Called Your Name,” followed by David Houston’s “Mountain of Love.”
By the end of the decade, the duo signed a deal with Shelby Singleton’s SSS Corporation to ply their trade. They immediately hit pay dirt, supplying an absolute masterpiece of country soul with “Reconsider Me,” recorded by our own “Tan Canary,” Johnny Adams (Lewis’ demo of this song will quickly reduce the listener to a puddle of tears), and the funky “Soul Shake,” by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson.
After penning more than 100 songs recorded by the likes of Jeanie C. Riley, Dolly Parton, Narvel Felts, Conway Twitty, Connie Francis, and Loretta Lynn, in 1981 Lewis moved back to her adopted hometown of Shreveport, and married Alton Warwick. Upon returning to North Louisiana, Lewis found the local music community distressed, and the historic home of the Hayride (Municipal Auditorium) in danger of a date with the wrecking ball. She and her husband decided to make the Louisiana Hayride central to their efforts to stimulate economic development in the Shreveport/Bossier City area, particularly for the music industry.
“People always said Shreveport could have been another Nashville,” says Lewis. “They always talked about how impressive the city’s music history is, but they never did anything about it. It was the Grand Ole Opry that attracted the music industry, but there was a time when the Hayride was just as important. I was in Nashville when they founded the Country Music Foundation (C.M.F.), and learned a lot from them. They realized early that you need an organization to attract the business community. That’s why I helped form F.A.M.E., (Foundation for Arts, Music and Entertainment for Shreveport/Bossier City) because we needed a core group to attract the Shreveport area’s business community.”
Thanks to Lewis and F.A.M.E., the Hayride’s building was saved, and funds were raised to eventually renovate it. Early in the millennium, Lewis was named by Governor Kathleen Blanco as Chairperson of the Louisiana Music Commission, also serving under the later governor. In 2004, she had two songs included on the compilation Night Train To Nashville, which was awarded a Grammy. In addition to touring Europe, Lewis appeared in New Orleans at the Ponderosa Stomp to an enthusiastic audience. Lewis also earned seven prestigious BMI awards for her songwriting.