Sheila Stewart MBE (7 July 1937 – 9 December 2014) was a Scottish Traditional singer, storyteller, and author.
Born in a former stable of a Blairgowrie hotel to Belle, a member of a group of Travellers, and Alex, a bagpiper, Stewart was chosen as a child by her uncle to carry on her family’s stories and songs. Performing at family cèilidhs for ten-shilling notes became more public performances in village halls, although the family collectively thought performing was “[producing] a natural function”. In 1954, journalist Maurice Fleming and, later, folklorist Hamish Henderson arrived in town, looking for singers of traditional songs. Over the next twenty years, the Stewarts of Blair became a folk attraction on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1976, Stewart and her family were asked by United States President Gerald Ford to sing in the White House for the bicentennial celebrations. On 1 June 1982, she was chosen to represent the travelling people during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Scotland. She sang Ewan MacColl’s “Moving On Song”.
In addition to writing her mother’s biography, Queen Amang the Heather – The Life of Belle Stewart, in 2006, she published a series of booklets, titled An Ancient Old Culture, which led to her autobiography, A Traveller’s Life, in 2011.
Until her death, Stewart shared her family’s songs and stories with audiences at home and abroad. She lectured on travellers’ culture at Princeton and Harvard universities and sat on the Secretary of State for Scotland’s advisory committee on travellers. In 2006, she was awarded an MBE for her services to Scottish traditional music.
In 2016 Stewart was featured in the documentary ‘Where You’re Meant To Be’ along with Aidan Moffat. The film features Moffat travelling around Scotland to perform his reinterpretations of traditional Scottish folk songs. Stewart is critical of Moffat’s versions of the songs, though ultimately appears on stage with Moffat at a performance at Glasgow Barrowlands.