- Jimmie Rodgers (country singer)
Infobox Musical artist
Name = Jimmie Rodgers
Img_capt = Rodgers on a US stamp, 1978
Img_size = 200px
Landscape = Yes
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = James Charles Rodgers
Alias = The Singing Brakeman
The Blue Yodeler
The Father of Country Music
Born = birth date|1897|9|8
Died = death date and age|1933|5|26|1897|09|08
Meridian, Mississippi, United States
Years_active = 1923–1933
The Tenneva Ramblers The Ramblers Louis Armstrong Will Rogers
URL = [http://www.jimmierodgers.com/ www.jimmierodgers.com]
Jimmie Rodgers (
September 8, 1897– May 26, 1933), an early purveyor of Delta blues, known as "The Singing Brakeman" and "America's Blue Yodeler", was probably the first country musicsuperstar and pioneer, a status that resulted in another commonly used nickname, "The Father of Country Music".
James Charles Rodgers' traditional birthplace is usually given as
Meridian, Mississippi. However, in documents signed by Rodgers' later in life, he gave his birthplace as "Geiger, Alabama," the home of his paternal grandparents. [Petition for Membership (dated: 20 Oct. 1930), Bluebonnet Lodge No. 1219, San Antonio, Texas; and Interview (6/2006) with James A. Skelton, Pres. of the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Foundation, Meridian, MS.] The youngest of three sons, his mother died when he was very young, and Rodgers spent the next few years living with various relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama, near the town of Geiger. He eventually returned home to live with his father, Aaron Rodgers, a foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, who had settled with a new wife in Meridian.
Jimmie's affinity for entertaining came at an early age, and the lure of the road was irresistible to him. By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father. Mr. Rodgers found Jimmie his first job working on the railroad, as a waterboy. This is where he learned the cries and moans of the blues and was taught to pick and strum by the rail workers and the hoboes. A few years later, he became brakeman on the
New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, a position secured by his oldest brother, Walter, a conductor on the line running between Meridian and New Orleans.
In 1924 at the age of 27, Jimmie contracted
tuberculosis. The disease temporarily ended his railroad career, but, at the same time, gave him the chance to get back to his first love, entertainment. He organized a traveling road show and performed across the southeast until, once again, he was forced home after a cyclone destroyed his tent. He returned to railroad work as a brakeman on the east coast of Floridaat Miami, but eventually his illness cost him his job. He relocated to Tucson, Arizonaand was employed as a switchman by the Southern Pacific. The job lasted less than a year, and the Rodgers family (which by then included wife Carrie and daughter Anita) had settled back in Meridian by early 1927.
Rodgers decided to travel to
Asheville, North Carolina, later that same year. On April 18, at 9:30 p.m., Jimmie and Otis Kuykendall performed for the first time on WWNC, Asheville’s first radiostation. A few months later Jimmie recruited a group from Tennessee called the Tenneva Ramblersand secured a weekly slot on the station as the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.
The Tenneva Ramblers originally hailed from
Bristol, Tennessee, and in late July 1927, Rodgers’ bandmates got word that Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company, was coming to Bristol to audition and record area musicians. Rodgers and the group arrived in Bristol on August 3, 1927. Later that same day, they auditioned for Peer in an empty warehouse. Peer agreed to record them the next day. That night, as the band discussed how they would be billed on the record, an argument ensued and the band broke up and Rodgers arrived at the recording session alone. On Wednesday, August 4, 1927, Jimmie Rodgers completed his first session for Victor. It lasted from 2:00 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. and yielded two songs: "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep". For the test recordings, Rodgers received $100.
The recordings were released on
October 7, 1927, to modest success. In November; Rodgers, determined more than ever to make it in entertainment, headed to New York Cityin an effort to arrange another session with Peer. Peer agreed to record him again, and the two met in Philadelphiabefore traveling to Camden, New Jersey, to the Victor studios. Four songs made it out of this session, including "Blue Yodel", better known as "T for Texas". In the next two years, this recording sold nearly half a million copies, which was impressive enough to rocket Rodgers into stardom. After this, he got to determine when Peer and Victor would record him, and he sold out shows whenever and wherever he played.
In the next few years, Rodgers was very busy. He did a movie short for
Columbia Pictures, "The Singing Brakeman", and made various recordings across the country. He toured with humorist Will Rogersas part of a Red Crosstour across the Midwest. On July 16, 1930, he recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9" with jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose wife, Lillian, played piano on the recording.
Rodgers's next-to-last recordings were made in August 1932 in Camden and it was clear that tuberculosis was getting the better of him. He had given up touring by that time but did have a weekly radio show in
San Antonio, Texas, where he had relocated when "T for Texas" became a hit. Earnings from his recordings enabled Rodgers to build a large house for his family in Kerrville, Texas, a location chosen partly for health reasons. But it was not in Rodgers' make-up to stay still, and his constant touring and recording schedule only hurt his chances of recovering from TB.
With the country in the grip of the Depression, the practice of making field recordings was quickly fading, so in May 1933, Rodgers traveled again to New York City for a group of sessions beginning
May 17, 1933. He started these sessions recording alone and completed four songs on the first day. When he returned to the studio after a day’s rest, he had to record sitting down and soon retreated to his hotel in hopes of regaining enough energy to finish the songs he had been rehearsing. The recording engineer hired two session musicians to help Rodgers when he came back to the studio a few days later. Together they recorded a few songs, including "Mississippi Delta Blues". For his last song of the session, however, Jimmie chose to perform alone, and as a matching bookend to his career, recorded "Years Ago" by himself.
Jimmie Rodgers died two days later on
May 26, 1933from a lung hemorrhage. He was 35 years old.
Country Music Hall of Famewas established in 1961, Rodgers was one of the first three (with Fred Rose and Hank Williams) to be inducted. Rogers was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Famein 1970 and, as an early influence, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Famein 1986. "Blue Yodel No. 9" was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Rodgers was ranked #33 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Musicin 2003.
Since 1953, Meridian's Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival has been held annually during May to honor the anniversary of Rodgers' death. The first festival was on
May 26, 1953.
In 1969, country singer
Merle Haggardreleased "". Haggard also covered "No Hard Times" and "T.B. Blues" on his best-selling live albums "Okie From Muskogee" (1969) and "Fightin' Side of Me" (1970). "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)" was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrdon their live " One More from the Road" album.
May 24, 1978, the United States Postal Serviceissued a 13-cent commemorative stamphonoring Rodgers, the first in its long-running Performing Arts Series. The stamp was designed by Jim Sharpe(who did several others in this series), who depicted him with brakeman's outfit and guitar, giving his "two thumbs up", along with a locomotive in silhouette in the background.
Rodgers' legacy and influence is not limited to country music. He was influential to Ozark poet
Frank Stanford, who composed a series of "blue yodel" poems, and a number of blues artists, among them Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf.
Meridian, Mississippi, as the birthplace of Jimmy Rodgers, was the first site outside the Mississippi Deltato receive a Mississippi Blues Traildesignation. The ceremony was held at the Singing Brakeman Park located on Front Street and emphasized the importance of Rodgers to the development of the bluesin Mississippi. Rodgers was known as the "Singing Brakeman" and the train was influential in the development of the blues both in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the state. [cite web
title=Meridian Star - Jimmie Rodgers honored with Blues Trail Marker
*Porterfield, Nolan. (1998). "Jimmie Rodgers". "The Encyclopedia of Country Music". Paul Kinsgbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 453-5. ISBN 0195116712 ISBN 0195176081
* [http://www.jimmierodgers.com/ Official Site]
* [http://www.bluegrasswest.com/ideas/jr-rpeer.htm Ralph Peer Remembers Jimmie Rodgers]
* [http://www.bcyesteryear.com/fulltext.php?article=24 Johnson City, Tennessee and Jimmie Rodgers]
* [http://www.nashvillesongwritersfoundation.com/fame/rodgers.html Nashville Songwriters Foundation]
* [http://www.rockhall.com/hof/inductee.asp?id=181 Hall of Fame inductee]
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