Mellow-voiced singer and prolific songwriter Freddie Hart, whose self-penned single “Easy Loving” was one of the biggest crossover hits of the early Seventies, died Saturday in Burbank, California. He was 91.
In addition to winning the ACM award for Song of the Year in 1971, “Easy Loving” was a Top 20 hit on the pop chart, a million-seller and earned Hart two Grammy nominations and the first of two consecutive CMA Song of the Year honors in 1971. Over the next two years, he would reach Number One on the country chart five additional times, with songs including “Bless Your Heart,” “Super Kind of Woman,” and “My Hang-Up Is You,” which logged six weeks at the top spot. Hart’s Capitol Records output through the decade included more than 30 chart hits, with the most successful of them written by the artist himself. He also penned songs for numerous other acts including Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Eddy Arnold, Charlie Rich and the Louvin Brothers. A prime purveyor of the Countrypolitan “Nashville Sound,” Hart’s romantic, yearning vocal style would earn him the nickname “Mr. Easy Lovin’.”
Born Frederick Segrest in Lochapoka, Alabama, in December 1926, to sharecropper parents in a family of 15, Hart first learned to play guitar at 5 years old. His difficult childhood led to running away from home at 7, and at 12 he was sent to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. In 1942, at just 15 years old, he joined the Marine Corps, serving in Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Guam during World War II. After his discharge, he worked as a laborer in Texas and New York.
In Nashville in 1949, Hart met Hank Williams, who advised him on songwriting techniques. He earned his first cut as a songwriter with the 1952 George Morgan recording of “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One.” The following year, Hart moved to Phoenix and went on the road with Lefty Frizzell. A 1954 recording of his song “Loose Talk” led Carl Smith to record it, giving Hart a long-running Number One country smash. He then went to Los Angeles where he would appear regularly on TV’s Town Hall Party until 1956. Although initially signed to Capitol, it wasn’t until 1959 and a move to Columbia Records that he scored his first hit, “The Wall.” Each of his five singles that charted for that label were penned by songwriter Harlan Howard, including one co-written by Hart. He then signed to Kapp Records before returning to Capitol in 1970 to begin his string of biggest hits.
Hart would continue to tour and record, taking stages throughout the world with his band, the Heartbeats, and also focusing on gospel music. In 2004, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, Hart recorded the gospel LP God Bless You, produced by David Frizzell, brother of Lefty Frizzell. He had reportedly planned to continue vocal work on the project before falling ill. The record is due to be released next year, while a Christmas single, “This Time of Year,” is expected to be issued next month.