James Charles "Jimmie" Rodgers (September 8, 1897 – May 26, 1933) was an American country singer in the early 20th century, known most widely for his rhythmic yodeling. Among the first country music superstars and pioneers, Rodgers was also known as "The Singing Brakeman", "The Blue Yodeler", and "The Father of Country Music".
According to tradition, Rodgers' birthplace is usually listed as Meridian, Mississippi, but in documents signed by Rodgers later in life, his birthplace was listed as Geiger, Alabama, the home of his paternal grandparents. However, historians who have researched the circumstances still identify Pine Springs, Mississippi as his birthplace. Rodgers' mother died when he was about six or seven years old and as the youngest of three sons, he spent the next few years living with various relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama. After the death of his mother he eventually returned home to live with his father, a maintenance-of-way foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, who had settled with a new wife in Meridian.
By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father. His father found Rodgers his first job working on the railroad as a water boy. Here he was further taught to pick and strum by rail workers and hobos. As a water boy, he would have been exposed to the work chants of the African American railroad workers known as gandy dancers. A few years later, he became a brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.
In 1924 at age 27, Rodgers contracted tuberculosis which temporarily ended his railroad career, but at the same time gave him the chance to get back to the entertainment industry. He organized a traveling road show and performed across the Southeastern United States until, once again, he was forced home after a cyclone destroyed his tent. He returned to railroad work as a brakeman in Miami, Florida, but eventually his illness cost him his job. He relocated to Tucson, Arizona, and was employed as a switchman by the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Less than a year later he traveled to Asheville, North Carolina where he had an oppotunity to perform for the first time on Asheville's first radio station. A few months later, Rodgers recruited a group from Bristol, Tennessee, called the Tenneva Ramblers and secured a weekly slot on the station listed as "The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers".
In the summer of 1927, Rodgers and his group arrived in Bristol, Tennessee for an audition and the next day it was agreed that they would be recorded. As the band discussed how they would be billed on the record, an argument ensued, the band broke up, and Rodgers arrived at the recording session the next morning alone. That was one story. In another version Rodgers had taken some guitars on consignment and sold them but did not pay back the music stores which supplied the guitars and it was that action that caused the band to break up. For two test recordings Rodgers received $100.
In November Rodgers headed to New York City in an effort to arrange another session and requested that his sister-in-law help him write some songs. She co-wrote, or wrote nearly 40 songs for Rodgers. In the next two years, this recording sold nearly half a million copies, rocketing Rodgers into stardom and he sold out shows every time he performed.
Rodgers' next-to-last recordings were made in August, 1932 and the tuberculosis clearly was getting the better of him. He had given up touring by that time, but did have a weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas, where he had relocated. Earnings from his recordings enabled Rodgers to build a large house in Kerrville, Texas. It was not in Rodgers' make-up to stay still, though, and his constant touring and recording schedule only hurt his chances of recovery.
With the country in the grip of the Depression, in May, 1933 Rodgers traveled to New York City for a group of sessions beginning May 17. He started these sessions recording alone and completed four songs on the first day. When he returned to the studio after a day's rest, he had to record sitting down and soon retired to his hotel in hopes of regaining enough energy to finish the songs he had been rehearsing. Rodgers came back to the studio a few days later and recorded a few more songs. During his last recording session he was so weakened that he needed to rest on a cot between songs.
Jimmie Rodgers died on May 26, 1933 from a pulmonary hemorrhage while staying at his hotel.