272 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI FATHER OF COUNTRY MUSIC Country music legend James Charles “Jimmie” Rodgers was known as “The Singing Brakeman,” because he learned many tunes and chants from time spent with fellow railroad workers. The country singer’s success began on a visit to Asheville, North Carolina, to perform on a local radio station, WWNC. Within a few months of the performance, Rodgers had coordinated his own group, known as “The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers,” with a weekly spot on the radio station. Later that year, the group auditioned for a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company who agreed to give the entertainers a record deal. However, the group broke up shortly after, and Rodgers went to the recording appointment alone. In a session that lasted just over two hours, Rodgers recorded his first two songs, “The Solder’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” for which he received a $100 payment. Rodgers left Meridian and headed to New York City. Rodgers’s record, which included the song “Blue Yodel,” sold almost 500,000 copies and finally kicked off Rodger’s career as a famous musician. Consequently, Rodgers sold out shows everywhere he performed. Known for his rhythmic yodeling, he spent the next several years recording and performing all over the country, and even participated in a film project for Columbia Pictures, titled The Singing Brakeman. Rodgers also toured with Will Rogers, the humorist, for a Red Cross-sponsored tour across the Midwestern part of the country. In 1930, Rodgers got the opportunity to record a song called “Blue Yodel No. 9” with the famous Louis Armstrong. During the early 1930s, Rodgers’s illness overcame him, and he was forced to give up touring, but continued to record songs. His last recording session took place in New York City on May 24, 1933. Rodgers passed away two days later at the age of thirty-five. The Father of Country Music Some joy was also found in the music market, which included “Race” records by the Africa American artists (later labelled R & B) and Hillbilly (later labelled Country) records by the white artists. The music of Jimmie Rodgers reflected both. His career would encompass the early years of the Depression from its beginning in 1929 until his death in 1933. Born in Lauderdale County on September 8, 1897, Jimmie Rodgers was thirteen when he got his first job as a water boy on his father’s railroad gang. He later became a brakeman on the New Orleans & Northeastern with oldest brother, Walter, who was a conductor on the Meridian– New Orleans line. In 1924, tuberculosis halted Rodgers’ railroad life, but allowed him to concentrate on music, his first love. He incorporated his love for the Blues into his songs and the songs he and sister-in-law, Elsie McWilliams, wrote. In late July 1927, Rodgers auditioned in Bristol, Tennessee before Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Rodgers’fame spread throughout the world because he connected with everyday people struggling to make ends meet during the Depression. Integrated into his songs were the blues, jazz, and East Coast styles of Tin Pan Alley songs. Tubas, clarinets, and ukuleles added uniqueness to his music. Rodgers’yodeling songs became a trademark in country music. Between 1927 and his death from tuberculosis at the Taft Hotel in New York on May 26, 1933, Rodgers recorded more than 100 songs and sold around 12 million records. Considered the Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers was one of the first three artists inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with Elsie McWilliams. Rodgers received the first marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail and was honored with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker. Federal Programs During the Depression People in the East Central region, like every other region in the country, needed jobs to put food on the table. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program in 1933 was designed to do just that. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) operated under the army’s control. Clarkco State Park was developed as part of the state park system on 750 acres by Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1437, whose barracks were on the property. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JIMMIE RODGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUM