Today marks 86 years since Jimmie Rodgers passed away at the age of 35. Nicknamed "The Singing Brakeman", "The Blue Yodeller", and "The Father of Country Music", Jimmie Rodgers' music career kicked off with a weekly radio show on Asheville's WWNC. When the Country Music Hall of Fame was established in 1961, Jimmie Rodgers was among the first three people to be inducted.
Below, you'll find an essay from the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program commemorating his road sign, casted in 2013.
The influence of Jimmie Rodgers on country music was considerable and many argue that he was the most important artist of the genre. Modern-day performers from Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton count him as an influence. He is known as the “Singing Brakeman,” the “Blue Yodeler,” and the “Father of Country Music.” Born James Charles Rodgers near Meridian, Mississippi, in 1897, Jimmie Rodgers took his first railroad job at thirteen working as a waterboy alongside his father. Rodgers developed a distinctive vocal style and incorporated yodeling into most of his songs.
By March 1927 Jimmie Rodgers had moved to Asheville, following a friend who worked for the Southern Railway. He lived for a while in the Western Hotel, then in a furnished cabin behind Pisgah View Apartments on Patton Avenue, and in a fire station at Bartlett and Depot in the present River Arts District. He worked as a janitor, cab driver, and city detective, alongside Fred Jones, chief of detectives.
Most importantly, he launched his music career with appearances on WWNC radio beginning on April 18, 1927. Rodgers and his friend Otis Kuykendall played live weekly on WWNC, in time adding other musicians billed as the Tenneva Ramblers and later as the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers. Rodgers travelled to Johnson City, Tennessee, on April 24 to play at a Rotary convention. Their initial appearances were sketchy. In Hendersonville only a housekeeper was present for the show. They did better at Marion on June 27 when they played the North Fork Mountain Resort.
WWNC, like Charlotte’s WBT and Raleigh’s WPTF, featured live old-time musicians. The station took to the air on February 2, 1927, with dance music from the George Vanderbilt Hotel (today the Vanderbilt Apartments) across from the Battery Park Hotel. The studio and transmitter were on the top floor of the nearby Flat Iron Building. Rodgers and company appeared on WWNC until June 1927.
On August 4, upon producer Ralph Peer’s invitation, he recorded his first two tracks, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” at the Bristol sessions in the town of that name that bestrides the Tennessee/Virginia line. The Carter Family made their first recordings that same week and the sessions are known as the “Big Bang of Country Music.” In December 1929, post-success, Rodgers returned to Asheville and handbills touted him as “Asheville’s Own.” He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1924 and it killed him in 1933.
Long a home for hippies, soul-searchers, and the creatively inclined, Asheville, N.C. has become a bastion for music makers, music lovers, and music seekers. We’ve known it for some time, and the word is getting out. If you don’t believe us, ask Rolling Stone. It takes a special sort of alchemy, tenacity, and intentionality to create a music hub like Asheville’s, and one of the biggest players on the scene is unquestionably Echo Mountain Recording.
Founded in 2006, Echo Mountain Recording is a state-of-the-art studio in the heart of downtown Asheville. Located inside what was once a Methodist church and Salvation Army building, the studio’s gorgeous 15,000 feet of production space, analog and digital recording options, and eclectic artifacts of music history draw some of the best talent today. The Avett Brothers, Sylvan Esso, Zac Brown Band, and T Bone Burnett have all recorded at Echo Mountain Recording. Many musicians who come to work on project there are seduced by the funky, easy-going vibe of Asheville. The studio is also a recording home for local acts, including the Asheville Symphony, and it hosts an ongoing series called Echo Sessions.
Earlier this year Echo Mountain Recording’s studio manager Jessica Tomasin gave us a behind-the-scenes look into the studio. This video also features footage of singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who is currently working on a project for Come Hear North Carolina at Echo Mountain Recording.
Connection. A word that by definition means to join together to establish a link, so as to provide access and communication. Connect Beyond Festival has established that link and is using music, film, and storytelling to create connections. More than just an event, Connect Beyond Festival is a movement to develop a network of people inspired by creative mediums and united in the pursuit of equality and social justice. Their goal is to inspire a sense of community and personal engagement.
Come Hear NC is supporting Connect Beyond’s North Carolina Music Showcase Sat. April 6 at the Orange Peel. The evening will feature a blend of artists from North Carolina playing originals and artists from around the country paying tribute to North Carolina musicians.
Lauded as “Asheville’s version of SXSW” (Ashvegas) this event is perfect for those who are looking for a more dynamic festival experience - one that prioritizes exploration and participation just as much as entertainment. If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, to engage with others, and want to leave a festival with more than just a hangover, Connect Beyond Festival is just the place to be.
Get your tickets for Connect Beyond here.
Warren Haynes is a rock and roll legend. He is also a North Carolinian.
Lauded as one of the most formidable guitarists and vocalists in music today, Warren Haynes is a prolific songwriter and producer known for genre-blending, his work with three of the greatest live groups in rock history – Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule and the Dead – and an ongoing acclaimed career as a solo artist. Haynes grew up in Asheville, N.C. and lives there today. An internationally beloved musician, his artistry has led to thousands of memorable performances, multiple GRAMMY nominations, and millions of album and track sales. He is slated to play two shows in his hometown with the Asheville Symphony on March 16 and 17, and in anticipation of the shows, we asked him to speak about his feelings for North Carolina in an exclusive for Come Hear NC.
You were born and raised in Asheville. What made it a good place for a musician to grow up?
Asheville was always a great place to grow up and always had a very cool underground music scene which included everything from rock to bluegrass, but now it has grown way beyond that. There are so many genres of music being represented in Asheville today. That diversity makes it even more appealing for local musicians to explore their musical dreams and also for musicians from other places to be inspired by that vibe and want to join the scene.
Tell us about your relationship with the Asheville Symphony – what should people know about their role in Asheville’s community?
As Asheville’s music scene is expanding, conceptually speaking, across the board - so is the Asheville Symphony. They are looking to the future and embracing Asheville’s growing music and art scene. I think more non-traditional music fans will climb on board which is a very positive and healthy thing.
Who is your North Carolina music hero and how have they shaped your sound?
I love so many types of music. Jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, who are both North Carolinians, have been very big influences as well as people like Doc Watson. I tend to approach all music from a jazz philosophy meaning I take an improvisational approach, even to more structured music. I sort of mix all my influences together in hopes of being able to create something new and fresh.