A for Asheville: Commemorating the Father of Country Music

Country singer Jimmie Rodgers was born in either Mississippi or Alabama, depending on who you ask, and he died in New York. But somewhere in between (1927, to be exact), he traveled to Asheville where he and Otis Kuykendall performed on WWNC, the city’s first radio station.

Rodgers is known as the “father of country music,” but also as the “signing brakeman” because even though he tried to start his music career as early as age 13, Rodgers father reigned him in with jobs on the railroad. The artist worked as a water boy, first, and then a brakeman until he contracted tuberculosis. But the railroad put Rodgers in touch with the working men and hobos who taught him to play guitar. And illness gave Rodgers time away from the railroad to pursue his career as a musician.

Of Rodger’s April 18 WWNC show, The Asheville Times wrote, “Jimmy [sic] Rodgers and his entertainers managed … with a type of music quite different than the station’s usual material, but a kind that finds a cordial reception from a large audience,” according to the musician’s official bio. “Another columnist said, ‘Whoever that fellow is, he either is a winner or he is going to be.’”

Shortly after that, Rodgers and his Tenneva Ramblers landed a spot on the Asheville station as weekly entertainers. By October, they had released their first record. A second album soon thereafter, with four songs, sold nearly half a million copies, making the singing brakeman a star.

Sadly, Rodgers succumbed to TB only six years after that initial Asheville radio broadcast. But, although 80 years have since passed, neither Rodgers nor his considerable impact on country music have been forgotten.

Sunday, Sept. 8, marks the 106th anniversary of Rodgers’ birth. In commemoration of his contribution to Asheville’s musical history, WNCmusic will hold a public ceremony at 2 p.m. unveiling a state historical marker. Mayor Bellamy has declared Sunday to be “Jimmie Rodgers Day.” She will speak at the unveiling ceremony at the corner of Haywood Street and Battery Park Ave. The event also includes street performances and a busker’s parade at 4 p.m. leading into a reception at the Asheville Music Hall.

The evening program, dedicated to the life and legacy of Rodgers, involves film, speeches and live performances. “An emphasis will be on the role musicians have played in developing Asheville’s distinct place in history and the economic benefit they have provided to the community leaders through enhancing the tourism and attracting creative individuals for centuries,” says press for the event. Tickets for the evening program are $10.



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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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One thought on “A for Asheville: Commemorating the Father of Country Music

  1. reinadeoz

    Jimmie Rodgers had a profound impact on the development of both country music and rock and roll. Bestowed with such nicknames as the Blue Yodeler, the Singing Brakeman and the Father of Country Music, Rodgers’ 110 songs about hard work, hard drinking and heartbreak set an emotional tone for country music that has remained its focus to this date. His heavy reliance on African American blues and jazz set a precedent that shaped the development of both country music and rock and roll over the ensuing decades. Summing up Rodgers’ influence on modern music, folk legend Bob Dylan said, “Jimmie Rodgers, of course, is one of the guiding lights of the Twentieth Century, whose way with song has always been an inspiration to those of us who have followed the path. He was a performer of force without precedent with a sound as lonesome and mystical as it was dynamic. He gives hope to the vanquished and humility to the mighty.
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