Jimmie Rodgers Recorded His Final Songs While Battling Tuberculosis, Singing Just A Few Minutes At A Time

Jimmie Rodgers country music
Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

The riveting life of Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music, is one to take a double look at if only because we own this man for the genre we love.

In his short 36 years of life, Jimmie embedded the “hillbilly music” into the hearts of listeners while also living through the first World War, the Roaring ‘20s, and the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression era.

But the historical truth of it all is that Jimmie Rodgers was an overcomer up until his last days, quite literally dying as he persevered to record his final album for his fans.

To summarize his background briefly, Jimmie lost his mother at only four-years-old and went to live with his father full time working on railroad projects that spanned the country. At ages too young to imagine, he was already running water to the laborers on the rail lines, and at fourteen he dropped out of school all together to work on the railroads himself.

His time working developed his affinity for music and exposed him to black influences that would build his skillset in both guitar and banjo. This instrumental ability, paired with his Southern Mississippi roots would forever impact his one-of-a-kind sound.

Historian Bland Simpson remarked on Jimmie’s distinct blend and sound:

“He had a better notion he would play tunes he really liked in his own style—part hillbilly, part black railroader. And he had something else special, a kind of yodel unlike the Swiss style, which had been the nation’s craze years before, a yodel married to the blues.

Of his yodels, Jimmie said, ‘They’re just curlicues I make with my throat.'”

Jimmie was nothing if not resourceful.

He even tricked the likes of Ralph Peers, a recording guru at the time, by renting out a posh hotel he could barely afford and then inviting him over to play him some of his original tunes.

His royalty for his first song, “Sleep, Baby Sleep,” yielded him a whopping $27 in 1927.

And true to his tumultuous life, his final record was recorded alongside his final battle with tuberculosis, which he had contracted a few years prior. The disease was slowly taking the life out of Jimmie, and he had even moved his family to Texas to be closer to the Tuberculosis Sanatorium for treatment.

He knew that he would convalesce to the disease sooner rather than later after being hospitalized with a coughing bout, and in an attempt to take care of his family with one final record, Jimmie returned to the Big Apple to cut his final batch of songs.

According to primary source archives, Jimmie was so sick in his last recording sessions he had to have a cot brought into the studio and lay down in between three-minute songs.

Coughing bouts rattled his lungs and required him to rest for long intervals before continuing to play:

“He was so damn sick that after he’d cut a three-minute song he had to lie down on the cot they kept right in the studio with him and cough and rest for a half for a half hour before going on.”

The end was so near and so obvious to those around the recording studio, that country music legend Gene Autry is said to have penned his song, “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers” while Jimmie was still alive and recording:

“I know you’ll be yodeling in Heaven
In that Angelic choir way up there
In that Land where there’s peace and therе’s comfort
Where shall be free from carе
And as vespers in Heaven start ringing
Surely Angels will pause while you’re singing
May God, in his mercy, grant your friends their one prayer
That they’ll meet you, Jimmie, up there”

Jimmie passed away in New York after a hemorrhage that sent him into a coma.

But his wife later rounded out Jimmie’s record with a final track simply titled, “We Miss Him” where she honored her late husband alongside Ernest Tubb who played Jimmie’s guitar for the recording.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock