Morris ‘Butch’ Stewart dies; did music for Oprah, Joyner, McDonald’s

SHARE Morris ‘Butch’ Stewart dies; did music for Oprah, Joyner, McDonald’s
butchstewart.jpg

Musician Morris “Butch” Stewart died May 19. He was 64. | Facebook photo

Morris “Butch” Stewart, who created long-running theme songs for Oprah Winfrey and radio host Tom Joyner, and jingles for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, died on May 19 at Evanston Hospital after a struggle with cancer, said his son Leslie. He was 64.

People who didn’t know the Evanston resident’s name would still recognize the catchy music he made during a 40-year career. He co-wrote Patti LaBelle’s soaring “Get With the Program” theme for the Oprah Winfrey show. In 1998, when Winfrey decided to switch to singing her own intro, he wrote a new theme, “Run On” for her to perform.

Joyner tweeted Monday that he was “Remembering Butch Stewart all morning long.” Telling listeners, “I lost my good friend,” he invited them to share their favorite jingle by Mr. Stewart, who excelled not only as a singer, composer and producer, but as a keyboardist, percussionist and tenor sax player.

Mr. Stewart worked with Earth Wind & Fire, jazz icon Ramsey Lewis, trumpeter Chuck Mangione and country singer Faith Hill. He also contributed music to the 1987 film “Teen Wolf Too” starring Jason Bateman, and appeared as himself in a 1983 TV special with groundbreaking comic Andy Kaufman, according to IMDb.

Morris “Butch” Stewart recorded Oprah Winfrey singing her theme song, “Run On,” at his production facility in Evanston. With his wife, vocalist and producer Brenda Stewart (left). | Provided photo

Morris “Butch” Stewart recorded Oprah Winfrey singing her theme song, “Run On,” at his production facility in Evanston. With his wife, vocalist and producer Brenda Stewart (left). | Provided photo

Young Butch grew up in Markham. His father, Morris, was a carpenter and his mother, Vergene, was a hair stylist and organist.

Even as a kid, he was musical, his son said, spending time with other kids pumping out tunes in neighborhood garages. He grew into a star of the jazz band at Thornton High School and sang with the Madrigals. He studied music and business at DePaul University.

In their early 20s, he and his high school sweetheart, Brenda Mitchell — who later became his wife of 38 years — began singing background vocals for Lewis. Mr. Stewart wrote “My Love Will Lead You Home” on the 1987 Lewis LP “Keys to the City” and multiple songs on Lewis’ 1985 “Fantasy” album.

“He produced albums for me, he wrote songs for me,” Lewis said Monday. “He’s a God-fearing gentleman, and he’ll be sorely missed.”

Morris “Butch” Stewart, a composer, singer and musician, collaborated with singer Patti LaBelle on Oprah’s theme song, “Get With the Program.” | Provided photo

Morris “Butch” Stewart, a composer, singer and musician, collaborated with singer Patti LaBelle on Oprah’s theme song, “Get With the Program.” | Provided photo

In a 2014 interview with LaShawn Williams for www.soultrain.com, Mr. Stewart recalled touring with Lewis and Earth, Wind & Fire. “It was a real thrill,” he said, “because this was back when they had those huge concerts with the drums spinning in the air and the whole works.”

Through producer Charles Stepney, he began working in the mid-70s on jingles for Chicago’s Burrell Communications, promoting McDonald’s and other business giants to African-American consumers. His son said he was instrumental in adding energy and soul to one of its most famed earworms, “Ba Da Ba Ba Bah, I’m Lovin’ It!”

“They came to Butch because they knew he was a wizard,” his son said. “He could use hip-hop to promote the Big Mac, country to promote McRib.”

Joyner hired Mr. Stewart to help brand the show with a theme sung each hour. It started out as “Oh, oh, oh, it’s the Tom Joyner Morning Show,” his son said. Later, it evolved into versions sung by celebrities and guest vocalists. Joyner paid tribute Monday to Mr. Stewart’s ability to capture musical styles, saying he instructed him, “I want some James Brown, some Larry Graham and some Earth, Wind & Fire. He said ‘got it!’ ” Also Monday, Arsenio Hall — who contributes to Joyner’s show — tweeted “Morris ‘Butch’ Stewart left me some of his amazing Ear Candy!”

Morris “Butch” Stewart loved country music. | Facebook photo

Morris “Butch” Stewart loved country music. | Facebook photo

Mr. Stewart operated a recording studio at Main Street and McCormick in Evanston. That’s where Winfrey recorded “Run On,” and where LaBelle came to work on “Get with the Program,” his son said.

He loved Garth Brooks and Charley Pride, sometimes performing country under the name “Butch Morrison.”

Though he was comfortable in any setting, and never tongue-tied in the presence of celebrities, his favorite place to be was the studio. “To the core, he was an introvert. He loved being alone with his music,” his son said.

He traveled to New York and Los Angeles to work, but “He really just loved Chicago,” his son said. “He really felt at home here and wanted to keep his business here.” In Evanston, he operated Good Stewart Productions. He and his wife also started the Art of Making Music Foundation, which helps provide music education to students.

“Our dad just always made himself available,” Leslie Stewart said, recalling how his father “whooped and hollered” when he came to see him perform at Evanston Township High School in YAMO shows and as the scarecrow in a production of “The Wiz.”

“He was quite a mentor, quite a teacher,” he said.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Stewart is also survived by another son, Brandon; a sister, Darlene Hall, brother Wayne, and one grandchild. A celebration of his life is planned in late June. For information, call847-868-8341 or email info@goodstewartproductions.com.

The Latest
The painting was done in April by the Belgian artist Renaud Taelemans, who goes by “My Name Is Ebo,” to promote a concert for the electronic dance group Ganja White Night.
Chicagoans show support for Ukraine, students get fresh haircuts for the first day of school and police welcome new graduates and honor Ella French in our best unseen pics of the week.
The author was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
The actor, who is in a coma and in critical condition, is being kept on life support for possible organ donation.
A Big Ten recruit staying close to home and some exceptional multisport athletes highlight the list of the area’s top quarterbacks.