May 31, 2010

Rita Stewart, 1917-2010

Rita Stewart, one of Scotland’s major contributors to piping tuition and leadership, died in her 93rd year in Dundee on May 29, 2010.

Born on June 22, 1917, in Carnoustie, Scotland, Rita Stewart was taught originally by her stepfather beginning at age 14, Rita Stewart was immediately a successful junior competitor around the local games. In 1947, when the Mary McLean Pipe Band was formed in Dundee  by a well known competitive Highland dancer and instructor, Mary McLean, Stewart was asked to join as pipe-major, and to take on teaching a group of young Highland dancers to play.

The move to develop a leading ladies’ band, with one of the best female pipers in Scotland leading it, was seen by many as revolutionary, as the barriers put up against women at that time were significant. The band was further enhanced by the addition of David Miller  from the City of Dundee Pipe Band to teach drumming.

The McLean Ladies were regular prize-winners in Grade 4 and ladies’ band  events throughout the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and over her 80-plus years of teaching, Rita Stewart tutored hundreds of Dundee-area pipers.

The band continues to exist in name, and Rita Stewart maintained her teaching regimen as pipe-major, running classes until the only a few years ago, when she retired due to declining health.

Rita Stewart is survived by her daughters, Alice and Anne and several grandchildren. Anne Stewart (now Spalding) made a similar mark in piping, by being one of the first female solo pipers to play at the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting in 1975, as well as gaining numerous solo awards throughout her career.

The funeral will be at Dundee Crematorium on Wednesday, June 9th, at 1:15 pm.

On behalf of the world’s pipers and drummers, we extend our sympathies to Rita Stewart’s family and friends at this sad time.


  1. This is a a great loss to piping across the world. My deepest condolences to Rita’s family and friends. As an ethnomusicological historian who is focusing on gender (a mouthful, I know!) I am interested in what specific types of barriers you feel women pipers/drummers would have had in that time period? I am also seeking any information on women in piping history. Please feel free to send me an email. Women such as Rita deserve a proper tribute to their influences on our small musical world. Many thanks, Erin Grant University of Otago, NZ

  2. This is very sad news. As a beginner female piper myself, it seems to me that piping ( and drumming) is a male dominated world and I wonder why there are so few female pipe band members. It would be fantastic if pipes|drums were to publish a series of articles profiling women in piping and drumming.

  3. .ON THIS DAY WE REMEMBER As a member of the Dundee, Perth and Angus Branch of the SPBA I remember her well, with Rita always being called and refered to as Mrs Stewart. As Senior Drum Major of the many Massed Band performances that the branch put on each summer in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Mrs Stewart would always be there with the MacLean Ladies Pipe Band. It was with her great contribution and teaching that the band became recognized as it did. My wife, who has since passed on was a piper in the band. To Anne, I remember so well as you were growing up and the members of the family, my deepest condolences. Drum Major Norman MacKenzie



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