The Lady Wrote the Blues
She wrote more than 850 songs for popular artists, some of the most famous musicians of the day. Over sixty years she composed or collaborated on songs for Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, Etta James, James Taylor, Faith Hill, and more. Who is this woman? The odds are, you have not heard of her.
Marie Hinton was born in Oneida, Arkansas, very near the Mississippi Delta, on April 19, 1922. Her father was a farmer working on a rented 45 acre farm. They lived in a shack with a tin roof and she helped her siblings raise chickens and cotton; attended a two room elementary school and church regularly. She loved music and singing and recognized that she had gifts in that area. Marie began to wonder if she could use her talents to help bring her family out of poverty. Oneida was not a kind place to blacks and life was not easy there. When she was in high school she moved to Helena, Arkansas where her grandparents lived.
It was here in Helena, that she heard the blues for the first time. It ignited a spark which left her dreaming of becoming a professional singer. When she was 18 she added Rose to her name and made the move to New York. She had her passion for music, singing voice and $6 in her pocket. She worked ironing shirts in a laundry during the day and signing in night clubs at night and on weekends. She met and married James McCoy and they two remained married for 57 years until his death in 2000.
She was a talented signer and was able to make a modest living but she began to think that there was a better way for her to used her talents. She began to write songs for others to sing. The Dixieaires, with Muriel Gaines recorded “After All” one of the first songs she wrote that was made into a record.
Rose Marie still sang during this time and in 1952 got a big break when she auditioned for Wheeler Records. While Wheeler loved her voice, they liked her songwriting even more. Several of her songs made it to the top of the R&B charts and Rose began writing even more songs. Unfortunately, Wheeler Records didn’t last long but she kept writing anyway. She became a collaborator of Charlie Singleton, best known for his song “Strangers in the Night.” Between1954–56, Rose and Charlie wrote seven top ten hits! Rose and Charlie solidified their place in music history with their song, Tryin to Get to You, which Elvis Presley recorded and included on his debut album in 1955. She said “We thought it was the blues, they called it rock’n ‘roll. I still don’t know the difference.”
Whether she knew the difference or not, her music was making a big splash. By the 1960’s it has been reported that McCoy turned down many offers from major labels. As an independent song writer she wanted complete control of her work and it was a wild success. She was not to be under the thumb of any label or artist, although she wrote for many major artists. Rose Marie McCoy was still writing at the age of 92. She told Jersey’s Best magazine that she still sometimes woke up in the middle of the night with a new song in her head.
Motown and Stax record producer, Al Bell, said: “She realized, at some point, that her power was in the pen. She’s just one of those rare persons who wants to be free to write her own songs her own way. Today, women and women of color are still underrepresented in the recording industry. But whether you’ve heard of them or not, the relatively few women who have come before them—women like Rose Marie McCoy—did so on their own terms. I mean, she realized at some point in time that her power was in the pen," Bell says. "And she was just one of those rare persons that wanted to be free to write her own songs and do what she wanted to do."