Jimmie Rodgers – The Father of Country Music
Born James Charles Rodgers in 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi, Jimmie Rodgers is deemed the “Father of Country Music” among other titles—such as the “Blue Yodeler” and “Singing Brakeman.” With his mother dying while he was seven years old, Rodgers began to live with relatives in both Mississippi and Alabama. At 13, his father landed him a job on the railroad working as a water boy. There, his African American coworkers, known as Gandy Dancers, would sing folk songs and even teach a young Rodgers how to pick a guitar. Later on, Rodgers worked as a brakeman, earning him the title of “The Singing Brakeman,” on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.
Unfortunately at the age of 27, Rodgers contracted tuberculosis. Although this brought an end to his railroad career, it enabled the dawn of his singing career. After starting a traveling road show, he went to Asheville, North Carolina where he and a group named The Tenneva Ramblers performed on Asheville’s first radio station, WWNC, as “The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.” Later, they met and auditioned for Ralph Peer of Victor Talking Machine Company in Bristol, Tennessee. Unfortunately, the band broke up because of an argument, leading Rodgers to record alone with Victor in Camden, New Jersey in 1927. During this time, he recorded his first two songs, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.”
Rodgers recorded more songs in Camden, New Jersey, initiating him into success with songs such as “Blue Yodel #1: T for Texas” which speaks of his early railroad life and features the yodel—a sound many people of modern day society would cringe and cover their ears when heard. Although, as a major fan of country music and having interests in the origins of it, I do not mind the yodel and in fact, get ready for it, happen to enjoy it as I feel it adds to the emotion and quality of the song. I know, shocking, right? In fact, Rodgers had 13 songs of the Blue Yodel series and each had a name besides simply “Blue Yodel #1.” Below is the first of the Blue Yodel series, “T for Texas.”
Rodgers’ last recordings were in New York, which included “Mississippi Delta Blues” in 1933. As the tuberculosis began to consume what was left of Rodgers, he had musicians hired to help record the last of his songs which he did so sitting down because of his weakened state. With most of Rodgers’ recording fame occurring between 1927 and 1933, the Great Depression negatively impacted record sales and show attendance. Rodgers died in 1933 at the Taft Hotel in New York City.
The impact of Rodgers did not die with his death. In 1961, Jimmie Rodgers was one of the first three musicians to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, with the other two being Fred Rose and Hank Williams. Rodgers was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In May, the month in which Rodgers died, Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of Rodgers, hosts an annual music festival in his honor, known as the Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival. Below is “In the Jailhouse Now,” which honestly may be my favorite Jimmie Rodgers song.