Recently, music pioneer Rose Marie McCoy was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame. But with no living relatives to accept the award, the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation asked Dr. Kyle Miller, director of the Delta Cultural Center (DCC) in Helena, to accept the award on McCoy’s behalf. In the DCC’s role of helping to preserve the cultural heritage of the Arkansas Delta, McCoy’s award is now on permanent display in its Delta Sounds Gallery.
Born Marie Hinton, into a farming family in Oneida, Arkansas, McCoy lived in a tin-top shack on a 40-acre farm that her parents rented there. But it was 18 miles away from Oneida, in Helena where McCoy attended Eliza Miller High School and first became acquainted with the blues. Often standing outside a club called The Hole in the Wall to hear top bluesmen perform, soon McCoy was dreaming of becoming a professional singer. After graduating from high school, she later married James McCoy and moved to New York City in 1942 to pursue a music career.
During her six decades long songwriting career, McCoy broke into the white male dominated music business in the early 1950s. Not only was she an independent song writer, but even without the backing of a music publisher or a record company to promote her work, she became one of the most prolific, versatile and successful songwriters in the history of American music producing records and forming her own publishing firm. In total, she wrote and published over 800 songs.
Though McCoy is most often associated with blues and rhythm & blues, many jazz artists have recorded multiple Rose Marie McCoy songs. Nate “King” Cole recorded three; Sarah Vaughn six; and Jimmy Scott eleven. Other artists who have recorded her tunes include Elvis Presley, Big Maybelle, the Eagles, Billy Eckstine, Bette Midler, Faith Hill and many others.
McCoy’s most successful song of the 1960s was “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” which became Ike and Tina Tuner’s first top 20 pop single and their first Grammy nomination. The Oneida, Arkansas native also wrote jingles for artists such as the late great Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. More than 360 artists have recorded her songs. And, the list keeps growing as new artists discover songs that were recorded, sometimes decades ago.
In 2008, McCoy was also inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. She passed away on January 20, 2015, at the age of 92. As a tribute to the large talent and great achievement of a kid from a tiny rural Arkansas Delta town, called Oneida, McCoy’s legacy is now memorialized at the DCC.
The Center is located at 141 Cherry Street in historic downtown Helena. Hours of operation are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
As an aside, Helena native, Red Holloway (Jazz Saxophonist), was also inducted in the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, along with five other musicians and performers. In the near future, Dr. Miller plans to present a mini exhibit at the DCC featuring McCoy, Holloway and Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, AR and gained fame as a gospel, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues singer/songwriter/guitarist. In the music industry and abroad, Tharpe was also known as “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll”.
The Delta Cultural Center shares the vision of all eight divisions within the Department of Arkansas Heritage—to preserve and promote Arkansas Heritage as a source of pride and satisfaction. The other divisions of the department are the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Old State House Museum, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council, the Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas State Archives.