Rodgers leaves legacy
By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
May 5, 2002
Nearly 70 years ago, Jimmie Rodgers' body returned to Meridian on the same railroad tracks where he first found his gift for writing and singing music.
Rodgers, a Meridian native, had died in New York City at age 35. The man known as the "Father of Country Music" and the "Singing Brakeman" returned home for his burial in May 1933.
This week, Rodgers returns in spirit. His life and music will be honored at the annual Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival in Meridian. Events begin Thursday and end with a concert Saturday night.
Rodgers grew up on the railroad.
He was the youngest of three siblings. His father, Aaron Rodgers, worked as a foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad which ran through Meridian in the early 1900s.
The railroad, some say, is where Rodgers created the country music genre.
Rodgers moved around a lot. But Meridian is still considered his home; a museum honoring Rodgers and displaying Rodgers' memorabilia is a main attraction at Highland Park in Meridian.
When Rodgers died after a long struggle with tuberculosis, a disease he had contracted in 1927, his body returned to Meridian and was buried at Oak Grove Baptist Church.
His grave also has become a tourist attraction.
Rodgers recorded about 100 songs in his short career. He traveled around the United States, playing his brand of country music with a slight touch of blues and jazz.
It's that dedication to music that helped inspire the annual Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival, an event that has attracted such country music stars as Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and George Strait.
Even a documentary filmmaker has been inspired by Rodgers' story.
On Tuesday, an Austin, Texas, production company will visit Meridian to shoot footage and screen 15 minutes from "Distant Son" a look at a famine-relief tour Jimmie Rodgers and Will Rogers sponsored in 1931.
Andrew Leranth, the film's executive producer and president of Austin Signal Corps Production, said Jimmie Rodgers and Will Rogers helped feed millions during the 1930s famine.
Even though Jimmie Rodgers' life was short, some say that he and his music touched millions.
Rodgers spent the last days of his life trying to cut a record in a New York recording studio. Because he was still struggling with tuberculosis, a nurse was constantly with him.
Shortly after he died, his body was placed on a train bound for Meridian. Rodgers' 9-year-old daughter, Anita, was with other family members waiting for the train in Meridian.
Oddly enough, Rodgers' big song at the time was "Waiting on a Train."
Here is a schedule for the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival. For more information, call the Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau at 482-8001.
Thursday: Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Golf Tournament, 9 a..m., Briarwood Country Club; The Inspirations and The McKameys, 7 p.m., Northcrest Baptist Church.
Friday: Adult talent contest, 10 a.m., Bonita Lakes Mall; Steve Forbert and the North Mississippi All-Stars, 7:30 p.m., $10, Singing Brakeman Park.
Saturday: Youth talent contest, 10 a.m., Bonita Lakes Mall; Grant's Ferry and Confederate Railroad, 7:30 p.m., $10, Singing Brakeman Park.