Gene Stuart, ‘singing legend’ of Irish country music, dies aged 72

Gene Stuart had one of the finest voices on the Irish showband and country scenes
Gene Stuart had one of the finest voices on the Irish showband and country scenes

Warm tributes have been paid to Irish country singer Gene Stuart who has died after a long illness, aged 72.

The big Tyrone man had one of the finest voices on the Irish showband/country ‘n’ Irish scene in a singing career spanning five decades.

BBC country presenter and singer Hugo Duncan said he had lost a very close friend.

“The Irish country scene will not be the same with big Gene no longer around – he was a true legend,” a tearful Hugo said.

Gene, from Killeeshil near Dungannon, began his showband career with The Mighty Avons in 1969 when the great Larry Cunningham left to form his own band.

He then formed his own band The Homesteaders and they too had a big following around Ireland and abroad.

With his deep bass baritone voice, Gene had unique appeal and he made it to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for several shows.

One of his 20 albums was recorded in Nashville and two of his best known numbers were ‘Sing The Blues To Daddy’ and ‘Pretty Little Girl From Omagh’.

Gene, however, not only recorded himself, he recorded many of the top names in Country ‘n’ Irish at his own studio beside his Killeeshil home.

His knowledge of music and the sounds that go to make up a good recording won the acclaim of singers who flocked to Gene’s studio.

“Gene had the unique knack of knowing the right song for a singer; how it should be recorded with the appropriate backing and blended sound. For years, I called in with him every week, but, with his deteriorating health, I found it hard for him and his family,” said Hugo Duncan.

“I played Gene a lot on my BBC programme – his songs struck a chord with people and he did a great album of monologues which suited his deep, highly expressive voice. He was a warm straight-talking individual, famous for his one-liners and humour.”

Crawford Bell, another singer who worked with Gene, said: “Our lives were enhanced by Gene’s friendship. He was straight down-to-earth and, when it came to music and recording technology, he was top drawer, highly regarded by the likes of Brian Coll, Frankie McBride, Hugo Duncan, Philomena Begley, Susan McCann and Daniel O’Donnell and the younger singers. His deep country voice and personality underlined the stature of the man.”

Margo O’Donnell, Daniel’s sister, described Gene as “one of life’s gentlemen”.

Gene, once a photographer for the Dungannon Observer newspaper, ran a record shop at Irish Street, Dungannon.

Gene, survived by his wife Briege, two sons and a daughter, will be buried after a service in St Patrick’s Church, Aughnagar on Sunday at 1pm.