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Jimmie Rodgers was a country singer who became famous for his style of yodeling. He was one of the first country superstars, and is remembered as the father of country music.
The Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers was born James Charles Rodgers on September 8, 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi, the youngest of three children born to Eliza and Aaron Rodgers. By the time Jimmie Rodgers was born, his mother was already suffering from a serious case of tuberculosis, and she passed away when he was only five or six years old. Rodgers' father worked as a maintenance foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad; due to the constant travel required by his work, he was in no position to raise three young children on his own. So Jimmie Rodgers spent his formative years shuffling amongst various relatives' homes in southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama. Although his he was never quite the "poor orphan child" he later depicted in his songs, Rodgers' did endure an unprivileged and itinerant childhood, something that would shape his consciousness and his music for the rest of his life.
A born entertainer, Rodgers taught himself to play the guitar and—like so many great Southern singers of his and subsequent generations—learned to sing in church. After winning an amateur talent show at the age of 13, Rodgers ran away from home to try his hand at making a living with a traveling road show, using sheets he had snatched off his sister-in-law's bed as a makeshift tent. Although his father quickly tracked him down and dragged him back home, Rodgers made enough money from his shows to buy his sister-in-law a new pair of sheets. A year later, a 14-year-old Rodgers got his first job, as a water boy for his father's railroad crew. Rodgers spent the next dozen years toiling away on the railroads, working his way up from callboy to flagman to baggage master to brakeman, all the while singing and strumming his guitar in the evenings.
In 1924, Rodgers contracted tuberculosis, the disease that had taken his mother's life, and could no longer labor long days out on the railroad. Making the best of his illness, Rodgers turned his focus to music, spending the next three years playing with amateur bar bands, earning just enough money from his music to make ends meet. In 1927, he teamed up with a string band called the Tenneva Ramblers, landing a regular but unpaid spot on a local radio station in Asheville, North Carolina. When the radio station folded, the band managed to find a new gig performing at a Blue Ridge Mountains resort.
Rodgers then got his big break when he learned that Ralph Peer, a talent scout for the Victor Talking Machine Company, was holding auditions in Bristol, Tennessee. Although their audition went over well, the night before they were scheduled to record with Peer, Rodgers and his band got into a squabble about billing, so the next morning Rodgers went in to record alone—just his voice and his guitar.
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When it comes to singing about struggle and emotion, there are few genres that match the intensity of country music. Country music was born from musicians that were brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves from happiness to heartache. Because of country icons like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Jimmie Rodgers, this southern, soulful genre has grown to become loved by many. Browse through the legends that established country music as the popular genre that it is today.
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A uniquely American genre, country music got its start in the South in the early 19th century, when immigrants blended their Old World sounds with African-American musical styles. But it was the lives of the musicians, as told in their songs, that turned country into one of the best-loved musical styles in the United States. Listeners could relate to Jimmie Rodgers' stories of the railroad in "The Brakeman's Blues"; Hank Williams' struggle with depression in tunes such as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"; and the promise of finding someone to rely on in George Jones' "Walk Through This World With Me." And its the universal struggles of love, loss, joy and longing found in each country song that keeps this music—and its performers—relevant throughout time.
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