Jimmie Rodgers died in New York City in 1933 and was laid to rest in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi shortly thereafter. Americans, especially Southerners, mourned Rodgers, but given his controversial nature and the tenuous economic conditions gripping the nation when he died there was much time for elaborate displays of commemoration. That changed twenty years later when on May 26, 1953—seventy years ago today—100,000 turned out on what was dubbed National Hillbilly Music Day to dedicate the monument you see here. Rodgers was know as “The Singing Brakeman,” and indeed for time he worked the rails as a member of Local Lodge 173 of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
I must say I came late to Jimmie Rodgers, and didn’t really get it until just a few years ago. I preferred the blue yodels as channeled through such Rodgers acolytes as Merle Haggard, whose covers paradoxically remained true to the originals while sounding more modern. Lynyrd Skynyrd, among of course many others, covered him too. I still appreciate Hag and Skynyrd’s loving homages, but have come to appreciate Rodgers on his own terms more and more in recent years as I’ve grown older. The music is just so . . . adult. It’s no wonder 100,000 people showed up. Meridian, Mississippi still commemorates the life and work of Jimmie Rodgers; the 70th annual music festival was held just a few weeks ago. Here are some stunning photos that the late Scotty Moore posted to his website in 2011 of events featuring Moore, the young Elvis, and others back in the mid-1950s. Please do click. Even better, listen to Jimmie Rodgers.