Happy Black History Month! This is the 20th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Rose Marie McCoy, the American songwriter who wrote many popular songs for artists in the 1950s and 60s like Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin!
This is her story.
Growing up on the Farm
According to time.com, Rose Marie McCoy was born in 1922 in Arkansas to a family of farmers. Growing up, she lived in a tin-roofed shack on the farm. She and her siblings helped the family by raising chickens and growing cotton. She began to grow an interest in music, both singing and songwriting. McCoy wanted to see if there was a way she could help her family financially through music. When she turned 19, McCoy traveled to New York City with $6 and searched for the right opportunities.
Life in New York City
After arriving in 1942, she found work ironing shirts and singing around the city in nightclubs. A year into New York living, McCoy met her future husband James McCoy. While singing made her enough money to survive, she began to explore her talent for songwriting. In 1946, a band called “The Dixieaires” recorded a song McCoy wrote called “After All”. This was the beginning of her songwriting career.
In 1952, McCoy auditioned for the mainly blues record company Wheeler Records. The company loved her singing voice, but they loved her songwriting even more. She recorded “Cheatin’ Blues”, “Georgie Boy Blues”, and “Gabbin’ Blues”, which hit number 3 on the R&B charts. In 1954, she wrote a song for the R&B group “The Eagles” called “Tryin’ to Get to You”. The song didn’t take off until a different artist sang it a few years later…
Working With Elvis and Others
In 1956, Elvis Presley sang the song and included it on an album that hit #1 on the charts. This propelled McCoy’s career so that by the 1960s, she had turned down jobs at major labels like Stax and Atlantic. Instead, she had her own office in the infamous Brill Building, known for songwriting work. Being independent, McCoy was able to work across all types of labels, artists, and music. Over the years, she wrote for Aretha Franklin, Sara Vaughn, and Nat King Cole among others.
Similar to how it is today, in the 50s and 60s, the music industry was dominated by white men. So, McCoy being a Black woman not only gave Black women representation in the industry but also paved the way for future Black women working in the industry. Rose Marie McCoy wrote songs until her passing in 2015 at age 92. Read more about Rose Marie McCoy here.
Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.