She began life knowing a double-headed reality confronted her; the first was growing up in abject poverty, and the second was racial discrimination, which brought a whirlwind of challenges her way when it came to pursuing her dream. However, when the die was cast, Rose Marie McCoy broke the glass ceiling in a sector that was dominated by white males.
She lived at a time when anyone interested in listening to the blues had to travel 18 miles to the closest club where blues artists were paid $3 to perform. Her decision to pursue music was finalized when she heard “Sweethearts of Rhythm”, the first racially integrated all-female jazz band which were active in the late 30s and in the 40s, and hoped that music would one day help her get her family out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
Any categorization of Rose Marie McCoy as a songwriter virtuoso whose talent left an indelible mark on the music industry, wouldn’t be far from wrong. Ironically, her name is quite unfamiliar to many. Born in 1922, in Oneida, Arkansas, Rose Marie McCoy’s gift for crafting heartfelt and memorable songs helped her to overcome various challenges and become a force to be reckoned with in an era dominated by white males. This journey humbly started with $6 tucked in her purse when she set off to New York City to follow her dream at the age of 19; a dream of telling stories through music.
Despite not having the voice to sing herself, Rose found her true calling as a songwriter and producer. Her ability to convey raw emotions through her pen was unparalleled, and her songs struck a chord with audiences around the world. With her passion for music and a deep understanding of the human experience, Rose penned some of the biggest pop hits of the 1950s.
Her first song on a record was “After All” by Dixieaires, and when she received her royalty check, the amount of money she received motivated her and informed her decision to do solely music. Many publishers began seeking her when black music was in high demand. One of Rose’s early breakthroughs was “Gabbin’ Blues,” recorded by Big Maybelle in 1952. The song was a success, reaching the top 3 on the Rhythm & Blues chart, and established McCoy as a formidable songwriter.
She continued to write for various artists, including Nat King Cole, Ruth Brown, and Elvis Presley, among others. However, her most notable collaboration was with legendary producer and songwriter, Otis Blackwell. Together, they co-wrote “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a blues ballad that became a soulful anthem. The song has been covered by numerous artists and is considered a classic in the Rhythm & Blues genre.
In addition to her songwriting prowess, Rose was also a trailblazer as a woman of color in the music industry. During a time when discrimination and segregation were pervasive, Rose broke barriers and paved the way for future generations of female songwriters and producers. She navigated a predominantly white and male-dominated industry with resilience, talent, and determination, earning the respect and admiration of her peers.
Rose’s impact on the music industry extends beyond the 1950s. Her songs have been covered by countless artists over the years, and her legacy as a songwriter and producer lives on. Her contributions to the music industry have been recognized through awards and honors.
Her story is a testament to the power of talent, determination, and breaking glass ceilings. Rose’s ability to write and produce hits in an era that was not always welcoming to women of color, highlights her exceptional talent and unwavering passion for music. Her songs continue to be cherished by audiences, and her legacy as a songwriting virtuoso will forever be remembered in music history.
Rose passed away at her home in Champaign, Illinois, on 20th January 2015 at the age of 92.