Mrs. Cross delivered a very interesting biography of the Father of Country Music, based on the Nolan Porterfield’s definitive biography, Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler as the New Century Club continued its study of famous Mississippi entertainers. Rodgers was the first to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Rodgers was born September 8, 1897, and was named James Charles Rodgers. He was the youngest of three sons and had a troubled life from early childhood since his mother died of tuberculosis when Jimmie was only five years old. His father, a railroad man, sent Jimmie to live in Scooba, Mississippi, with his paternal grandparents. They were very poor. For the next twenty-five years Jimmie had no permanent address. His father married again, but Jimmie’s attempt to adapt to life with his stepmother did not work out. He was sent to live with his maiden aunt, Aunt Dora. He was very frail and did not attend school very much. His affinity for entertaining came at an early age. By age thirteen, he won an amateur contest and tried organizing traveling shows. His father, however, put a stop to that and got him a job working on the railroad with him, first as a waterboy and later as a brakeman, hence his name “the singing brakeman.”
He was married twice. First, he married a woman named Stella in 1917. She bore a daughter named Katherine in 1918. Jimmie did not know about her until she was 10 years old. He had divorced Stella in 1919 and married Carrie in 1920. Anita, a daughter, was born January 30, 1920.
He continued to work on the railroad and to make music as well. He had a knack for meeting people and for making friends. At the age of 27, Jimmie contracted tuberculosis, which temporarily ended his railroad career but gave him the chance to spend more time with his first love, entertainment.
He toured, made recordings, and performed sold-out shows whenever and wherever he played. He wrote to his Aunt Dora, “I am making a man of myself. I am making some money.” He built a beautiful home in Texas, which he named Blue Yodeler’s Paradise. However, money meant little to him. He was very generous with what he had.
His health continued to deteriorate. By August of 1932, it became apparent that tuberculosis was getting the better of him. He had to give up touring, but he still had a weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas. In May of 1933, Rodgers died within 36 hours of finishing his last recording session. His legend and legacy are alive and well. The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival has become a showcase of talent for some very well known artists, such as Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride.
His music has impacted all of our lives with his simple, yet unique, style.
New Century Club will meet for its final meeting of the year in May at the library when Joy Hill will review The Legacy of the Blackwood Brothers.
New Century Club will continue its study of Mississippi entertainers who have made a difference in April when Collett Cross will bring the program on Jimmie Rodgers, Father of Country Music.