Music

'You Don't Know Me': How the Prolific Cindy Walker Penned the Timeless Ray Charles Hit

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Cindy Walker was one of the most prolific songwriters in music history. During Walker's 1997 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, famed country singer-songwriter Harlan Howard called her "the greatest living songwriter of country music." Fellow Texan Willie Nelson honored her with his album You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker and The New York Times  noted that Walker had Top 10 hits in every decade from the 1940's to the 1980's.

Born in Mart, TexasWalker got her start in the music business after pitching a song to Bing Crosby. In 1940, when Walker was 22 years old, she was visiting Los Angeles with her parents when she spotted Bing Crosby Enterprises. Walker played her song "Lone Star Trail" for Crosby's brother Larry Crosby, who arranged for Walker to play the song for Bing Crosby the following day at Paramount Studios. Crosby would go on to record the song, which became a Top 10 hit.

For the next decade, Walker worked in L.A., appearing in the Gene Autry western Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride and writing multiple songs recorded by Bob Wills, including "Cherokee Maiden" and "Bubbles in My Beer."

Walker scored her own hit in 1944 with her recording of "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," written by Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan.

But Walker's most revered song is arguably "You Don't Know Me," which Ray Charles recorded for his No. 1 album Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music.

The song title was given to Walker by country singer Eddy Arnold.

"As I was leaving Eddy Arnold walked in. He said 'I've been wanting to see you. I've got a song title.' He said "I've showed it around a little bit, but I haven't had any luck, but I know it's a good title,'" Walker said during a GRAMMY Foundation Living History interview.

Walker liked the title, but didn't immediately know what to do with it. But inspiration hit one day in her home studio.

"I wrote all the time -- I still write every day. I was up in my little studio...and I was just sitting there. All of a sudden, here comes this song...'You give your hand to me and you say hello'," Walker recalled, getting emotional over the memory of penning the tune. "I couldn't finish it. I couldn't find any way to finish it...Maybe two or three weeks went by and nothing happened. One day, [I thought] 'You give your hand to me and then you say goodbye' and when it said that, I knew exactly where it was going. To make a long story short, I couldn't wait to get to the phone to call Eddy."

Read More: The Legacy of Willie Nelson and Ray Charles' Timeless Duet, 'Seven Spanish Angels'

In addition to Charles' timeless recording, the song was cut by numerous artists, including Elvis PresleyJim Reeves, Mickey Gilley, Kenny Rogers, Emmylou Harris and Michael Buble.

Bluegrass and Americana artist Alison Krauss recorded the song for her album Windy City.

During her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Walker honored her late mother, Oree.

"In the 1980s, my mother bought me a dress for a BMI affair. She said 'when they put you in the Hall of Fame, that's the dress I want you to wear.' I said 'Oh, mama, the Hall of Fame -- that will never be.' The years went by, but my mother's words remained in my memory," Walker said. "I know tonight she'd be happy, though she's gone now to her rest. But I think of all that she did for me and tonight I'm wearing this dress."

Uninterested in the spotlight, Walker didn't put stock in accolades. Instead, she took the most pride in the songs she wrote on her floral Royal typewriter at the home she shared with her mother in Mexia, Texas.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Walker's niece Carol Adams said Walker kept her awards under her bed.

"Worldly things were of little meaning," Adams said (quote via The New York Times). "She lived for hamburgers, ice cream, pencil and paper."

Walker left all of her songs -- royalties and all -- to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

"She said, 'Well, I've got all these songs that I've written ...they're my babies. I want my babies to be in a really safe place, and I think the Hall of Fame is the place for them,'" Kyle Young, chief executive officer of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, told The Tennessean"She went on to say that if we would be so kind as to take her songs, she'd also like her writer's share -- her royalties -- to come to the museum."

The Tennessean reports that, since Walker's death at the age of 87 in 2006, her songs have earned $1.4 million, which goes to the museum's educational programs.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

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This story originally ran on Dec. 31, 2020.

'You Don't Know Me' Lyrics:

You give your hand to me
And then you say "Hello"
And I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don't know me, no
No, you don't know the one
Who dreams of you each night
And longs to kiss your lips
And longs to hold you tight
To you I'm just a friend
That's all I've ever been
No, you don't know me
I never knew the art of making love
Though my heart aches with love for you, yeah
Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by
A chance that you might love me too
You give your hand to me
And then you say "Goodbye"
And I watched you walk away
Beside the lucky guy
I know you'll never know
The one who loved you so
No, you don't know me
But I never knew the art of making love
Though my heart aches with love for you
I'm afraid and shy, I let my chance go by
A chance that you might love me too
You give your hand to me
And then you say "Goodbye"
And I watched you walk away
Beside the lucky guy
Oh, you'll never ever know
The one who loved you so
No, you don't know me
I say you'll never ever know
The one who loved you so
No, you don't know me
No, you don't know me

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'You Don't Know Me': How the Prolific Cindy Walker Penned the Timeless Ray Charles Hit