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Jimmie Rodgers Had a Short but Exceptional Career

A number of important events occurred in 1927. Charles Lindberg piloted “The Spirit of St. Louis” nonstop from New York to Paris, a heroic feat that was celebrated across the world and was the talk of the nation. That also was the same year that Babe Ruth slammed his 60th homer, a remarkable record at the time. Also, in that year Ford Motor Company saw its 15 millionth Model “T” car come across the assembly line. It was the car that had put America on wheels with its simple design and low price tag. Too, it was the year of the first real talking movie: “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson.
While perhaps not as notable on the national stage, another event took place in 1927 in a town not far from Mountain City that brought into being recognition of a musical genre that had not gained a lot of popularity until then. That genre was Country or Hillbilly music and the event was The “Bristol Sessions.” Ralph Peer, an agent for the Victor Talking Machine Company, rented space in an empty hat warehouse in Bristol Tennessee to record a variety of talented groups or individuals. The sessions saw the emergence of The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and others as important figures in the genre. Peer brought state of the art recording equipment with him that produced better sound quality than had been possible before. The sessions lasted from Monday, July 25 until through Friday, August 5. He returned in 1928 for another session.
The two most popular acts recorded were The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers (yes, that’s the way his name is spelled.) Much has been written about The Carter Family. The original group was comprised of A. P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter and Maybelle Carter. But, I think less recogni-tion has been afforded Rodgers who had a very short but prolific career. He recorded 110 songs in a span of six years.
Rodgers’ birthplace is listed as Meridian, Mississippi. He was born September 8, 1897. His mother died when he was young and he stayed with relatives but finally came to live with his father, Aaron Rodgers. One of his early jobs was as a brakeman on the New Orleans and North-eastern Railroad — hence, he was known as The Singing Brakeman. He was also called The Blue Yodeler due to his distinct yodeling style; and The Father of Country Music. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 27.
The disease put a stop to his railroad work and he decided to go back into entertainment. He made his way to Bristol when he heard Peer was coming to record. He originally had a group together but they couldn’t decide who had first bill and so he decided to sing alone. He report-edly got $100 for his first two songs. Aside from his recording, he did a movie and toured with famous humorist Will Rogers. One of his final sessions was on May 17, 1933 in New York. A few days later Rodgers died at the age of 36. Meridian boasts a marker and museum that honors Rodgers and his unique music.