Jimmie Rodgers and Ralph Peer with their wives, and Jimmie’s daughter
Anita, circa 1930 – Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The O’Connor Band took home the big bluegrass award yesterday at the 2017 Grammy Awards, but two other people that figure heavily in the history of bluegrass and country music were also honored with Special Merit Awards from The Recording Academy. Jimmie Rodgers and Ralph Peer, both known for their contributions to the “Big Bang of Country Music,” the 1927 Bristol Sessions, received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Trustees Award, respectively.
According to The Recording Academy, the Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates performers who have made outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording. The Trustees Award is similar, but focuses on those whose contributions have come in fields other than performance. Recipients are chosen through a vote of The Recording Academy’s National Board of Trustees.
Rodgers is known as one of the forefathers of country music, and was in fact a member of not only the Country Music Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1961, but also was among the first inductees of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was one of the first legitimate country music stars, with one of his first singles, Blue Yodel (T for Texas), selling half a million copies within two years of its release. His music has been very influential in the bluegrass world, as well, with early musicians (including Bill Monroe) imitating his bluesy style and yodeling. One of his most popular songs to make the leap to bluegrass is Muleskinner Blues, which arguably helped Bill Monroe start building the foundation of what would become bluegrass music.
Though Peer was not a musician, he had a keen ability to locate and market music that would become among the most popular in the nation. He is probably most well-known for “discovering” both Rodgers and the Carter Family at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, but also helped spark the popularity of other regionally-based music styles like blues and jazz. In the 1920s and 30s, he traveled, mostly throughout the southern United States, in search of musicians who might strike a chord with other listeners in the same region. He recorded the first country record (now a bluegrass standard), Fiddlin’ John Carson’s Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane. He was a shrewd businessman, taking both management and publishing roles in the careers of artists he recorded. Fifty-nine recordings that he either published or produced have been added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, offered an accurate summation of the two men in a statement released by the organization. “These exceptionally inspiring figures are being honored as legendary performers, creative architects, and technical visionaries,” he said, “Their outstanding accomplishments and passion for their respective crafts have created a timeless legacy.” An honor indeed!