“Asheville’s Own” Jimmie Rodgers Broadcasts his first hit from Flatiron Buildings’ Penthouse in 1929 Known as the “father of country music”, country singer Jimmie Rodgers was born in either Miss. or Alabama, depending on one’s source, and died in New York. In 1927, however, he traveled to Asheville, NC, where he performed with Otis Kuykendall on the city’s first radio station, WWNC. (1) Prior to this, Rodgers worked for the railroad as a railway brakeman for a number of years where he learned to play guitar from the working men and hobos he became acquainted with. After contracting tuberculosis, he left the railroad to pursue a musical career. (1) In April 1927, filling a weekly slot, Rodgers began playing live on WWNC with Otis Kuykendall. Soon, other musicians got on board and the group took on the name Tenneva Ramblers, which was later changed to The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.
It was during these early radio appearances that Rodgers made his breakthrough in the music industry. (2) Later that year, Rodgers and his band mates auditioned for Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company, who agreed to a recording session with them. Rodgers recorded two songs: “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” and “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”, for which he received $100. The recordings met moderate success and Peer recorded four more of Rodgers’ songs. Among these was “T for Texas”, which sold almost half a million copies, launching Rodgers into full-fledged fame. (3)
In December 1929, Rodgers returned to Asheville where he was billed and celebrated as “Asheville’s Own”. For it was, indeed, in the little mountain town at WWNC where he made his first radio appearances which served as a major springboard in launching his career. WWNC, an acronym for “Wonderful Western North Carolina”, began broadcasting on Feb. 21, 1927 from the Flatiron Building, the Vanderbilt Hotel, and the Asheville Citizen-Times building. Founded by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, WWNC originally provided weather, traffic reports, and evening music. Rodgers appeared on the program regularly from April 18 to June 1927. (5)
Asheville commemorated “the singing brakeman” in 2013 with the unveiling of a historical marker at the intersection of Haywood St. and Battery Park Ave. (2) In 1933, Rodgers succumbed to tuberculosis in New York, just hours after working on his final recording session, but the memory of his rich life and music lives on in the small mountain city where he was first embraced professionally and where he first placed his artistic footprint.
- Marshall, Alli. “A for Asheville: Commemorating the Father of Country Music.” Mountain Xpress. 6 Sept. 2013. 28 Feb. 2017. <mountainx.com>
- Sandford, Jason. “New Historic Marker to honor famed ‘singing brakeman’ Jimmie Rodgers and his Asheville Ties.” Ashvegas. 03 Sept. 2013. 28 Feb. 2017. <ashvegas.com>
- www.jimmierodgers.com/biography assessed 1 Mar. 2017.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WWNC assessed 1 Mar 2017.
- www.ncmarkers.com p.94 assessed 1 mar 2017