Nashville country music stardom attracted many performers, songwriters and producers from nearby Mississippi, from Jimmie Rodgers to Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, Moe Bandy and Faith Hill. Mississippians Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Bobbie Gentry and Marty Stuart fused country with blues, rock and gospel, as did songwriters Hank Cochran, Mac McAnally, Johnny Russell and Craig Wiseman.
Nashville country would not have been the same without the contributions of singers, pickers, songwriters and producers who found their way here from Mississippi, lured from mostly small town and humble farm beginnings by the sound of the Grand Ole Opry on their radios and a chance at stardom. Even before Nashville became the home of country recording studios, publishers and managers, they headed here. Jimmie Rodgers, the former brakeman turned star vaudevillian who’d be deemed “the man who started it all,” played a midnight show on the 700-seat Hollywood showboat, docked at the Cumberland River in 1932, and among the Opry’s early vocal stars were The Poe Sisters, billed as “the female Delmore Brothers,” and Pete Pyle, one of the broadcast’s first solo singer-songwriters, who’d go on to sing with Pee Wee King and Bill Monroe and form the Mississippi Valley Boys.
With opportunities for musical career advancement limited back home, versatility was essential, and Mississippi-raised artists often arrived in the booming Nashville scene of the 1950s and ’60s ready to fill multiple musical roles. Philadelphia, Mississippi’s Bob Ferguson would manage Ferlin Huskey, write “Wings of a Dove,” and become one of the key producers at RCA Victor Records in the Nashville Sound era. Conway Twitty, country’s “High Priest” from Friar’s Point, would forge a career in rockabilly, then become one of the field’s all-time balladeers–solo and in duets with Loretta Lynn. Johnny Russell, from Moorhead, would write “Act Naturally,” become a publishing executive, and eventually forge a career as a singer himself.
As singers and songwriters, Mississippi transplants often brought with them expressive dollops of moist Deep South soul, a heritage that evoked Delta blues, Southern gospel, and rhythm and blues within country, most famously in the genre-defying careers of Elvis Presley, but evidenced, too, in the classic country of Tammy Wynette and Charley Pride, in the music of Bobbie Gentry and of Marty Stuart, and in the evocative, award-winning hit songwriting of Hank Cochran, Mac McAnally, Paul Overstreet, and Craig Wiseman. Remembered and summoned up in such recorded songs of longing, love, loss and nostalgia as Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You,” Pride’s “Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town,” Gentry’s “Chickasaw County Child,” McAnally’s “Where I Come From,” Stuart’s “Let There Be Country” and Hill’s “Mississippi Girl,” their starting place seemed always with them, and always in Nashville’s country.
content © Mississippi Country Music Trail
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