The scope of Country music was forever changed by Jimmie Rodgers. His time as a railroad worker prior to fame introduced him to a variety of musical styles—namely traditional country, blues, “hobo”, and cowboy songs. The unique combination of those styles turned Rodgers into one of the first nationally known country stars and is largely the foundation of the genre today.
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Though his career earned him a reputation for being the “Father of Country Music,” it was unfortunately cut short by his death on May 26, 1933. The singer was only 35 when he succumbed to Tuberculosis.
On the anniversary of Rodgers’ death, we’re detailing his short, yet iconic, career as well as his ill-timed death. Revisit Rodgers’ story, below.
“Waiting for a Train”
According to the Country Music Hall of Fame, despite being reared in small-town Mississippi, Rodgers always had a hankering for the limelight. At just thirteen years old, he flew the coop and joined a traveling medicine show—much to his railroad foreman father’s chagrin. He was ultimately brought back home to be a permanent fixture on the train line.
Though it was not what Rodgers had in mind for his life, it did expose him to varied styles of music he likely would not have been privy to otherwise. Moreover, he amassed a plethora of stories about the working man that would later color his lyrics.
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Rodgers developed Tuberculosis in 1924 (he was 27 years old). After contracting the disease, he left the railroad business for good and decided to devote 100 percent of his time to music.
He dabbled with live music for a while before he found any sort of success. In 1927, he earned an audition with Ralph Peer—an A&R for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The audition was originally supposed to be shared between Rodgers and his then-band, the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers, but a tiff broke them up before they could record.
Ever determined to make music work, Rodgers convinced Peer to let him record alone and thus jump-started his meteoric rise to fame. Rodgers scored his first big hit with the track “Blue Yodel (T for Texas).” The song catapulted him into fame and scored him performances in venues all around the country. The next few years saw Rodgers take off like a rocket. His biggest hits included “Waiting for a Train,” “In the Jailhouse Now,” and “T. B. Blues.” On top of his solo efforts, Rodgers played with a number of entertainment heavyweights of the era like Will Rodgers, the Carter Family, Louis Armstrong, and more.
By 1932, Rodgers’ diminishing health began taking a toll. Nevertheless, he attempted a number of appearances through the spring of 1933. He passed away while trying to record a new series of songs in New York City. On May 26 of that year, he suffered a massive hemorrhage (a result of his Tuberculosis) in his room at the Taft Hotel.
Before Rodgers, “hillbilly music” (an early iteration of country) lacked a sense of individuality. Rodgers, however, took his own route and infused a marked amount of personality and emotion into his performances.
Countless country artists credit Rodgers as an inspiration. Even those that don’t cite Rodgers by name can’t escape his enduring influence on the genre.
Merle Haggard recorded an entire album’s worth of Rodgers’ songs in the late ’60s for his album, Same Train, Different Time. Other big names that have noted Rodgers’ influence include Gene Autry, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, and Tanya Tucker.
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