Jimmie Rodgers

Last year, the Post Office Department issued the first of a series of commemorative postage stamps called "The Performing Arts." The first stamp in this series was issued at Meridian, Mississippi and on this stamp was a portrait of a famous country singer who was called "the Singing Brakeman." Can you tell me his name? Jimmie Rodgers.
Jimmie Rodgers was born in l897 at Meridian, Mississippi. His father was a section foreman, a man who had a section of the railroad track to main tain for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. At the age of fourteen, Jimmie began to work on the railroad as a water boy for his father's track workers. Four years later, at the age of l8, he secured a job as a brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad where he worked about nine years until he developed tuberculosis. That ended his railroad career for a time.
Jimmie had always loved folk and country music, so he organized a traveling road show playing one night stands. But one day a tornad o destroyed his tent and wrecked all of his equipment. Broke, sick, and discouraged, he turned back to railroading, and where do you think he worked for about two years? The Florida East Coast Railway here at Miami. His health again caused him to leave Miami seeking a better climate. He tried Arizona where he worked as a brakeman for a short time, but on account of his health his railroading came to an end.
Returning to Mississippi, he organized a small band and soon settled down in Asheville, North Carolina, with a regular program on a local radio station. It was here he attracted the attention of the Victor Talking Machine Company, which later became RCA. Jimmie Rodgers was auditioned in l927 and was soon a recording star. His first record, "The Soldier's Sweetheart" sold a million copies the first year. Jimmie Rodgers was now thirty years old, but his health continued to deteriorate so he had to turn down many invitations for public appearances.
He continued to make records an d in the next six years he made over fifty records. He became nationally known as "The Blue Yodeler," and the "Father of Country and Western Music." Jimmie Rodgers also made a movie, which naturally was named "The Singing Brakeman." He was called to New York to make some more records. He was a very sick man but he made the trip and most amazingly he recorded 24 records before returning to Asheville. Not long after returning home, Jimmie Rodgers died in his sleep and was brought back to his ho me town of Meridian, Mississippi, where he is buried. He was only 36 years old when he died.
In l953, the Jimmie Rodgers Monument was dedicated at Memorial Park in Meridian. The building is a replica of a railroad station and inside can be found many momentos of this gifted singer who had such an untimely death. Jimmie Rodgers has the reputation of making railroad, country and western music very popular in this country, so in l96l when "The Grand Old Opera" in Nashville, Tennessee, decided to form the "Country Music Hall of Fame" the first person to be honored was Jimmie Rodgers. He has since been joined by such country stars as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones.
Jimmie's home town of Meridian, Mississippi, holds a special celebration each year the last week in May. It is called the "Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival." Now here is a personal note. In l926 I was living in Jacksonville, Florida, but my company assigned me to Miami for several months of special work. One evening I was walking down North Miami Avenue near Flagler Street when I saw a large crowd of people in the Phillpit Music Store. I walked in to see what was going on and there to my surprise was Jimmie Rodgers making a personal appearance and singing some of his popular songs. As I recall he was thin and pale. But his songs were very appealing and his yodeling was great. I still remember one of the plaintive songs he sang that night. It went something like this: "My poc ket book is empty and my heart is full of pain \ I'm a thousand miles away from Home and a sleeping in the rain.\ I'm a thousand miles away from home just awaiting for a train."
In between songs he told us some of his experiences as a brakeman on the railroad and I still remember this story he told. It seems that one night he was the brakeman on a long freight train leaving Miami for Jacksonville and he and the conductor were sitting in the cupola high up in the caboose where the y could observe the train of cars up forward. When they passed through Ft. Lauderdale, the streetlights lit up the train so that the conductor saw a hobo sitting on one of the box cars about midway up the train. He told Jimmie to go up and put the hobo off the train at the next stop, which would be West Palm Beach. Jimmie said he climbed out of the caboose and walked up the train on top of the box cars to where the hobo was sitting. He told the free rider that he had come to put him o ff at the next stop. The hobo said, "Oh yes." He then reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a pearl handled Smith & Weston pistol and leveled it on Jimmie and told him he better get back to the caboose if he valued his health. Jimmie said he made haste back to the caboose and when he arrived the conductor said, "Did you put the hobo off." "No," said Jimmie, "when I got up there I found him to be an old friend of mine and I just could not put him off." The conductor said, "Well I'll take car e of him real quick," and he took off up the train toward the hobo. Soon the conductor returned. "Did you put him off?" asked Jimmie. The conductor replied, "I know you won't believe me but that guy up there is my brother-in-law."

1 comment:

  1. I live in Meridian, Mississippi.
    I enjoyed your post. The postage stamp you mentioned was issued in 1976. The first Jimmie Rodgers memorial was in May of 1953. They placed a memorial statue in front of a locomotive at what was then a roadside park om the old highway 80. Just west of Meridian. Years later in the early 1970's. It was moved to Meridian's Highland Park. Where the building you mentioned was built. The building is a museum modeled as a old rairroad station " The Jimmie Rodgers Museum".

    I would like to have you contact me at myrick52@hotmail.com please.

    Jim Myrick
    Meridian, Mississippi

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