Biography of Father of Country Music Jimmy Rodgers Part 2

About the Father of Country Music Jimmy Rodgers, history and biography of the singer and songwriter.


JIMMY RODGERS (1897-1933)

By 1926 he was again a brakeman, this time on the Florida East Coast Railroad. A recurrence of tuberculosis caused him to seek relief in Tucson, Ariz., where he worked for the Southern Pacific until he was told to quit by his doctor. After a brief period of living with his in-laws, Jimmy moved his family to Asheville, N.C., where he organized the Jimmy Rodgers Entertainers. In May, 1927, the group performed three nights a week on radio station WWNC in Asheville. After losing their sponsor, they hit the road for a string of one-night stands. Just as these, too, began to run out, Jimmy heard about a recording-talent audition offered by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Rodgers and his "hillbilly ork." headed for Bristol, Tenn., and on Aug. 4, 1927, he cut his first singing record, "Sleep, Baby, Sleep," with "Soldier's Sweetheart" on the flip side. The "Singing Brakeman" received $20, but when the record was released, Jimmy Rodgers was an overnight smash. Though his first-quarter royalties came to only $27.43, he was soon earning a $25,000 a year, then $100,000. He bought his family a $50,000 mansion, a Cadillac, and a Chrysler, and for himself a $1,500 guitar.

One Rodgers hit followed another--"T for Texas," "Away Out on a Mountain," "Ben Dew Berry's Final Run," and "Mother Was a Lady." In August of 1928, Jimmy was headlining the bill at the posh Earle Theater in Washington, and his record sales were topping Victor's list of best-sellers. Until 1933, the father of country music led a glamorous whirlwind life. Then his enemy tuberculosis struck again. Only partially recovered and against the advice of his doctors, he traveled to New York for what turned out to be his last recording session. He was too weak to sing more than one song without resting, and only 12 of the 24 scheduled sides were completed by May 24. On the 25th he had to be carried back to his room in the Taft Hotel, where, in the early morning of the 26th, the "Singing Brakeman," idol of millions, died in his sleep.

He left an enviable legacy in his 111 recorded songs, which reportedly have sold 20 million copies. His unique singing and instrumental style influenced the growth of country music and the careers of countless star performers. In 1961 he was elected to the Country Music Association's Hall of Fame as "the man who started it all," and today reissues of his records are gobbled up by another generation that idolizes the ever popular and new Jimmy Rodgers.

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