They Liked My Phras'n: The Life & Music of Rose McCoy, Part I

Sep 8, 2019

Rose Marie McCoy (1922-2015)

Discover one of America's most prolific songwriters.

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we speak with biographer Arlene Corsano about the life and music of Arkansan songwriter and singer Rose Marie McCoy. 

This episode airs Friday, September 13 at 7:00 pm CST and Sunday, September 15 at 9:00 pm CST. 

With not much but a heart full of hope, Rose Marie McCoy left her family's tin-top shack in Arkansas in 1942 and made her way to New York City. Her Dream was to make it big as a singer. Instead, by the mid-50's, she achieved fame and fortune as a song writer.

Through personal stories and rare interview recordings with McCoy, Corsona tells the in-depth and behind-the-scenes story of a complicated singer and songwriter who broke barrier after barrier as a black woman in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in the music business. 

Corsano's book Thought We Were Singing the Blues But They Called It Rock 'N' Roll chronicles McCoy's storied life and turbulent times from her beginnings in Oneida, Arkansas to her partnership with songwriter Charlie Singleton in New York and her office in the famed Brill Building.

Credit Arlene Corsano

During her lifetime, McCoy published over 850 songs that were recorded by the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, Nappy Brown, Big Maybelle, Little Esther Phillips, Elvis Presley, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, Duke Ellington, Faith Hill, and many others.

In 2017, McCoy was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame but to this day is still not recognized by the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Please join us in signing the linked petition to include Rose Marie McCoy into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Arlene Corsano grew up when top radio stations played it all: rock, jazz, pop, country, blues-- Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Jackie Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Eddie Arnold, Johnny Mathis--all on the same station.

It was a thrill for her when mutual friends introduced her to songwriter Rose Marie McCoy, who wrote for all those mentioned and so many other top artists of the 1950s and '60s. As a neighbor and long-time friend, Corsano shares how Rose Marie McCoy loved telling stories about her work as a songwriter. These stories became the foundation of Arlene’s biography of Rose.  

A very special thanks to Arlene Corsano who so generously shared tapes of personal interviews with McCoy and some of the original recordings of McCoy singing. 

Rose and Arlene
Credit Photo provided by Corsano

Additional thanks to the singers and songwriters who illuminated this episode including the St. Mark Baptist Choir for the hymns. Thanks to Mary Ellen Kubit for helping to shape and edit the story, and  Frank Thurmond and Tim Anthony for the valuable advice.

Thank you to Stickyz Rock “N" Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas, and thank you to the Sheraton Four Points by Marriott Little Rock Midtown  for providing accommodations for our singers, songwriters, and guests. 

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Executive Producer:  J. Bradley Minnick

Producer and Story Editor: Mary Ellen Kubit

Sound Mastering: Simon Sound Services

Intern: Brian Williams