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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 509

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This is the grave of Fred Rose.

Born in Evansville, Indiana in 1897 or 1898 (there is evidently some dispute about this), Knols Fred Rose started playing piano as a child and was very good. He grew up in St. Louis and started singing as well. Dumping that ridiculous first name as a child, he moved to Chicago as a teen to busk on the streets. He moved onto the vaudeville stage, but focused most of his attention to writing songs. He was very good at this, but it’s a tough living. He had some early success writing for Sophie Tucker. He recorded some reasonably popular songs in the late 20s, such as “Honest and Truly.” He moved to Nashville briefly where he had a short-lived radio show, then to Tin Pan Alley. He began working with Ray Whitley, bard of the Hollywood cowboy film and writer of “Back in the Saddle Again,” a huge hit for Gene Autry. Rose got to know Autry and the former wrote some songs for him. But really by 1940, Rose was a middle-aged songwriter without much money, even if he had a lot of songs that big name people had recorded. That places him right there with at least 95 percent of people who try to make a living writing songs, probably more.

In 1942, Rose decided to take another stab at Nashville. He realized now the commercial potential of country music, if it was packaged right. Country was changing at this point, already leaving the mountain music of The Carter Family and Roy Acuff behind, moving into a slicker, more popular genre. He had met Acuff by this time, who also saw the writing on the wall for his own career. Both realized that the real money in Nashville was in publishing. It was the business end of the deal where people could cash in. So they decided to team up and create Acuff-Rose Music. They then signed a promising young singer to work with them. His name was Hank Williams. Acuff and Rose both got very rich, very fast. What made these two men different than all the other publishing company owners is that they weren’t scumbags. They were actually honest with clients, doing crazy things such as paying them their royalty checks and treating them like human beings. They stated their goal was “that no man, or girl, that entered our door would be cheated our of a song, or one penny of anything that they’ve got coming.” And while the sexism in the statement reflected the times, it was a honestly felt belief that artists actually deserved money.

Rose continued to write songs, using the name of Floyd Jenkins. And let’s be clear here–the guy was a hell of a songwriter. It is Rose who wrote “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” which Acuff had a hit on long ago and then of course Willie Nelson recreated as an all-time classic on his transcendent Red Headed Stranger album. He wrote “Deep Water” and “Hone in San Antone,” both of which Bob Wills made famous. He and Hank Williams co-wrote some of the great’s most famous songs, including “Kaw-Liga” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” He wrote others himself or with other writers that Hank also did, including “Take These Chains From My Heart” and “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.” Rose was an absolutely titanic figure in the development of mid-twentieth century country music.

Alas, he dropped dead from a heart attack in 1954, only 56 or 57 years old. Acuff-Rose would continue, run by Rose’s son, and would remain the top publishing house in Nashville for decades. Rose was one of the first three people inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, in 1961, along with Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, two other tragically young deaths. He is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Fred Rose is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader contributions. I am very thankful for that! If you would like this series to cover other legendary songwriters, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Steven Foster is in Pittsburgh and Woody Guthrie is in Okemah, Oklahoma. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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