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'Thought we were writing the blues'

10/16/2015, 2 p.m.
“Thought we were writing the blues, but they called it rock ’n’ roll,” said Rose Marie McCoy during an interview ...
Rose Marie McCoy was one of the most sought after songwriters of the 1950s and 1960s. She greatly contributed to the crossover from segregated Rhythm & Blues to international Rock ’n’ Roll. (Courtesy Photo)

“Thought we were writing the blues, but they called it rock ’n’ roll,” said Rose Marie McCoy during an interview for a radio documentary about her life and music. That statement became the title of her biography, the story of how an African American female broke into the white, male-dominated music business in 1952 to become one of the most sought after songwriters of the 1950s and ‘60s, greatly contributing to the crossover from segregated Rhythm & Blues to international Rock ’n’ Roll and paving the way for the female pop specialists who followed.

“I don’t know of any other songwriter that has accomplished what she has,” said Al Bell, former owner of Stax Records and past president of Motown Records Group. “Getting so many songs recorded by established artists: Ruth Brown, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Caesar, Etta James, Dinah Washington. The list goes on and on. And look at the diversity of styles: gospel, blues, Rhythm and Blues, jazz, pop, country. It’s incredible what she has done.”

Though her legacy has caught the attention of the Smithsonian Institute, which is collecting information about her for its newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open next year, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has not yet honored her.

“I can only find two black female songwriters who have been honored so far by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Sylvia Moy and Valerie Simpson. Both worked for Motown, but Rose Marie McCoy, being a fiercely independent woman, chose to make her way as an independent songwriter,” explains Arlene Corsano, Rose Marie McCoy’s biographer.. ‘Without the backing of a large company she may never be inducted.”

Rose Marie McCoy’s last songs were recorded in 2013. Though she passed on in January 2015, her music lives on. Songs she wrote that were recorded decades ago get new life as newer artists discover them. Rhythm & Blues songs that did not get much exposure in the 1950s are now used in movies and television shows. Efforts to petition the Songwriters Hall of Fame are under way and her story is now available in a book.

“Thought We Were Writing the Blues: But They Called It Rock ’n’ Roll” is not only a story of the music business, filled with behind-the-scenes of songwriters, musicians, mobsters and legendary singers, it’s also a heartwarming rags-to-riches story of a woman blessed with a great deal of talent, and just as important, the necessary personal qualities to become successful: determination, persistence, sell assurance, and the propensity to take risks.

“Thought We Were Writing the Blues” is available at Barnes & Noble at BarnesandNoble.com.

Information about on-going efforts to secure Rose Marie McCoy’s legacy can be found in the News & Reviews section at RoseMarieMcCoyMusic.com.