Reflections

Mississippi Honors Native Son In May

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you had a great Mothers day if you were fortunate enough to have your mother still with you.  If not, you still have treasured memories of when they were still with us.  We had a great tradition of wearing a red rose if you mother was alive and a white rose if they had passed away.   
Mother told the story of how when I was a toddler  I kept trying to take my rose off and  play with it.  She simply solved the problem by pinning it to the back of my outfit.   Mothers seemed to have an innate ability to come up with simple solutions to problems. Most of them had never heard of Dr. Spock and they probably could have taught the good doctor a thing or two about raising children.  
This might seem late to be writing about Mother’s Day but last week was the alternating week with Jack so I decided to include it this week.  Changing directions as I’m prone to do, this week is my tribute to Mississippi’s most famous singer and former railroad man.  This is not an intrusion on Jack’s area of expertise as this individual never worked for the Illinois  Central, but did work as a brakeman  for the Atlanta and Vicksburg and the North Eastern.  
James Charles Rodgers was born September, 1897, in Meridian, Mississippi the son of a section foreman.  However, that is secondary to the real story. Starting at age 14, he worked for several railroads. He also got married and had a young daughter.  He came home for Christmas 1926 with a bad cold and a cough that wouldn’t go away.  He was diagnosed in the early stages of tuberculosis, which in those days was the same as a death sentence. It was apparent that his railroad days were over and having a wife and child to support he looked around for a new career.  
He had played guitar with friends but never professionally, but when he saw an ad that RCA Victor was sending a talent scout to Bristol, Virginia to audition country talent he was interested. He took some of his last few dollars to buy a coach ticket to Bristol where he met the Carter family.  
RCA signed both of them and for years they were that label’s biggest sellers.  The Carters and Jimmie Rodgers became friends, but they never came close to achieving his popularity.  In spite of his failing health. Jimmie managed to cut 85 sides for RCA, made personal appearances all over the country, and became wealthy in the process. Country Music called him “The Father of Country Music,” but he sang jazz, blues, love songs and a novelty tune called “The Desert Blues.”  
Louis Armstrong and his wife as well as Benny Goodman were studio musicians on some of his records.   His trademark was a high, clear yodel and he was billed as Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakeman America’s blue yodeler.
 Near the end of his life he recorded two songs, “The TB or Write Blues” and “My Time Ain’t Long” which proved prophetic.  
In May 1933 after spending a month in the hospital and since his RCA contract was up for renewal, he took a ship to New York to record as many sides as possible. He was so weak by this time that a cot was set up in the studio for him to rest between takes.  In the early hours of May 26, 1933 he died in his New York hotel room.  He was bought back on a special train to his birthplace in Meridian. On the 20th anniversary of his death the first Jimmie Rodgers day was celebrated and is done each year since.  
Let me hear from you at my email address cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O.Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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