Born Knowles Fred Rose on August 24, 1898, in Evansville, IN; died on January 12, 1954, in Nashville, TN; son of Andrew Rose and Annie West; married Della Braico, 1917 (divorced); married Helen Holmes, 1929; children: two children by first wife; two by second wife.
Among the key figures in making Nashville, Tennessee, into Music City, U.S.A., was music publishing executive Fred Rose, who was also active as a songwriter, producer, and pianist during a career that touched several characteristic genres of twentieth-century popular music. Country music flourished in many places around the southern United States during its early years. Perhaps the most important step toward its centralization in Nashville was the formation in 1942, by Rose and singer Roy Acuff, of Acuff-Rose Publications, the music publishing firm that introduced the modern business of music to Nashville. Rose is equally well known as the discoverer, producer, and creative collaborator of the greatest country singer and songwriter of the modern era, Hank Williams.
Knowles Fred Rose was born on August 24, 1898, in Evansville, Indiana. He grew up in poverty in St. Louis, moving among the houses of several relatives, and he probably had no schooling beyond the third grade. Musically inclined, he sang for tips in saloons and learned to play the piano. In his teens he ran away to Chicago and eked out a living playing barroom piano on the South Side. In 1917 he married a woman named Della Braico. They had two sons, but were later divorced. The older son, Wesley, later came to Nashville to handle the financial affairs of Acuff-Rose, and took over the company after his father's death. Fred Rose later married again and had two more children.
Rose began writing songs, finding a ready market among Chicago's growing population of jazz singers and bandleaders. Rose's "Deed I Do," written with Walter Hirsch, became a standard after it was recorded by the Isham Jones Orchestra, and singer Sophie Tucker, later dubbed the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, owed her hit "Red Hot Mama" to Rose and a pair of other writers. Rose's "Deep Henderson" was written in 1926 and recorded by the band of the legendary New Orleans-born cornetist King Oliver. Some of Rose's songs were picked up by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the leading white dance band of the mid-1920s, and Rose may have played piano with the group. He recorded piano rolls for the Q.R.S. label and performed as a pianist on Chicago radio stations WLS and WBBM, sometimes as half of a duo called the Tune Peddlers.
Fired from a radio job because he was a problem drinker, Rose headed south to Nashville and started a show called Freddie Rose's Song Shop on radio station WSM. The show honed Rose's songwriting skills--listeners would write in with suggested song titles, and Rose would compose songs to order. At this point Rose was still a pop musician, but he took notice of the cowboy song craze of the mid-1930s that expanded outward from Hollywood to country-themed radio shows like WSM's Grand Ole Opry. He began to work with some of the musicians on WSM's roster and also wrote several songs for cowboy singer Ray Whitley, at that time based in New York and performing on the city's WHN Barn Dance. On a trip to New York in 1935, Rose converted to the Christian Science faith.
After Rose's "We'll Rest at the End of the Trail" became a hit in 1936 with recordings by Tex Ritter and the Sons of the Pioneers, among others, he headed for Hollywood, moved in briefly with Whitley and his family, and worked for several years writing Western material. One well-known composition from Rose's Hollywood years was "Roly Poly," a novelty hit in 1945 for the Western swing band Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. "Be Honest with Me," a collaboration with Gene Autry, became a major hit in Autry's repetoire. It was a romantic song with no references to Western films beyond Autry's cowboy image, and it was very close in structure and spirit to the songs about troubled love affairs that would form the backbone of what would soon be called country-and-western music. Back in Nashville in 1942, Rose founded Acuff-Rose Publications with $25,000 in seed money from singer Roy Acuff. Rose said that he first began to really understand country music when he saw Acuff, at the Opry, sing a sentimental number about a dying child called "Don't Make Me Go to Bed (And I'll Be Good)."
In the words of country music historian Bill C. Malone, Acuff-Rose "provided the nucleus for Nashville's later rise to eminence in the music industry and brought further financial success to each of its founders." The formation of a Nashville publishing industry was important, for it generated a music business model in Nashville that was based on publishing and song copyrights, comparable to those that existed in New York and Los Angeles. New studios were established and record labels moved to set up Nashville offices. Rose was in the middle of the industry's growth, scouting out new talent, working in the recording studio as de facto producer (the musical sense of the word did not yet exist), and continuing to write country material, sometimes using the pseudonym Floyd Jenkins. In 1945 he recorded a few sides himself under the name the Rambling Rogue.
In 1946 a rough-hewn songwriter from Alabama showed up at Rose's Nashville offices; Rose recognized talent in the then-unknown Hank Williams and signed him to an Acuff-Rose publishing contract. Williams went on to become the biggest star in country music; his recordings on the MGM label topped country-and-western sales charts almost as soon as they appeared. Most of Williams's material was his own, often drawn from his tortured domestic life, but he often worked with Rose, his mentor, as part of the songwriting process. Rose was credited as co-writer with Williams on "Kaw-Liga," and it is said to have been Rose who suggested the idea of making Kaw-Liga a wooden Indian rather than a live one. Rose and Hy Heath wrote one of Williams's biggest hits, "Take These Chains from My Heart," and "Settin' the Woods on Fire" was also partly his creation. The extent of Rose's contributions to Williams classics such as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is a matter of debate. What is certain is that Rose, using his contacts with New York industry figures such as producer Mitch Miller, paved the way for many of Williams's songs to be recorded by Tony Bennett and other pop artists.
Rose was involved with the careers of other country performers besides Williams; he brought the mountain-gospel stylings of the Louvin Brothers to the attention of the hip West Coast label Capitol, where their career flourished. Rose himself composed several country classics independently of his association with Williams. The Carl Smith hit "Foggy River," later a bluegrass standard, was a Rose song, but his most famous solo composition, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," did not become a hit until Willie Nelson recorded it in 1975. Vitally involved in the growing Nashville music industry of the early 1950s, Rose suffered a heart attack but refused medical treatment owing to his religious beliefs. A second coronary episode killed him on December 1, 1954, in Nashville. In 1961 he became one of a group of three initial inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
by James M. Manheim
Fred Rose's Career
Moved to Chicago, mid-1910s; performed in clubs and taverns; moved to New York, early 1920s; wrote songs for jazz and pop artists and for Paul Whiteman band; formed duo the Tune Peddlers, which performed on radio station WLS, Chicago, 1928; moved to Nashville, 1933; performer and host, Freddie Rose's Song Shop, radio station WSM, Nashville, 1933-38; wrote cowboy songs in Nashville and Hollywood, 1938-42; with Roy Acuff, formed Acuff-Rose Publications, 1942; recorded under pseudonym the Rambling Rogue, 1945; signed Hank Williams to Acuff-Rose publishing contract, 1946; produced most Hank Williams recordings and contributed to some of his songs as editor or co-writer, 1946-52.
Fred Rose's Awards
Part of first group elected to Country Music Hall of Fame, 1961.
- Selected discography
- Recorded piano rolls for Q.R.S. label, 1920s; recorded as the Rambling Rogue, 1945.
- The Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia, Times Books, 1994.
- Country: The Music and the Musicians, 2nd edition, Abbeville, 2004.
- Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, general editors, American National Biography, Oxford, 1999.
- Green, Douglas, Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy, Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press, 2002.
- Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford, 1998.
- Malone, Bill C., Country Music, U.S.A., revised edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.
- "Fred Rose," Nashville Songwriters Foundation Hall of Fame, http://www.nashvillesongwritersfoundation.com/fame/rose.html (March 8, 2006).
- "The Song Doctor: Fred Rose," Hank Williams Appreciation Society International, http://www.angelfire.com/me2/kulacoco/rose.html (March 8, 2006).