Prolific Songwriter Rose Marie McCoy Was Largely Unknown Rose Marie McCoy was one of the most prolific songwriters of last century, though her name is not well known. She died last month at the age of 92.
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Prolific Songwriter Rose Marie McCoy Was Largely Unknown

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Prolific Songwriter Rose Marie McCoy Was Largely Unknown

Prolific Songwriter Rose Marie McCoy Was Largely Unknown

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine," performed by Ike and Tina Turner in 1961.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I THINK IT'S GONNA WORK OUT FINE")

TINA TURNER: (Singing) Darling.

IKE TURNER: Yes, Tina.

T. TURNER: (Singing) You're startin' to get next to me.

CORNISH: The song sold more than a million copies and was nominated for a Grammy, but like many hits from that era, the writer of the song didn't get much credit. In this case, her name wasn't even included on the original release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I THINK IT'S GONNA WORK OUT FINE")

T. TURNER: (Singing) Oh, darling.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) Yes, yes.

T. TURNER: (Singing) I think it's going to work out fine.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) It's going to work out fine.

CORNISH: The woman behind those lyrics was the prolific Rose Marie McCoy. She died last month at the age of 92. Producer Joe Richman of Radio Diaries profiled McCoy on this program six years ago, and he brings us this remembrance.

JOE RICHMAN, BYLINE: When I first met Rose Marie McCoy in 2009, she was living in a very simple house in Teaneck, New Jersey. You could trace her career by peeking through the boxes that were piled up in her living room - boxes of lyrics, cassettes, reel to reel tapes, drafts and demos of hit songs and others that were never recorded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ROSE MARIE MCCOY: I keep all of my tapes - country songs, gospel songs, pop songs, every kind of song. I'm just going to wait till love come back in style. That's a good title.

RICHMAN: Rose was 19 years old when she left her family farm in Arkansas and arrived in New York with $6. Over the next few decades, she wrote hundreds of songs for hundreds of singers. Al Bell is the former head of both Stax and Motown Records.

AL BELL: My God, just look at who has recorded Rose Marie McCoy's songs - The Platters, the Four Tops, Jimmy Rushing, Ertha Kitt, Bette Midler.

RICHMAN: The list goes on. Rose never made a ton of money, but she used to say one song paid for her house.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRYING TO GET TO YOU")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) I've been traveling over mountains.

RICHMAN: In 1954, Rose and her songwriting partner, Charlie Singleton, wrote this song called "Trying To Get To You." The song was first recorded by a black vocal group called The Eagles. Elvis Presley happened hear it in a record store in Memphis, Tenn., and he decided to cover Rose's song on his debut album for RCA Records in 1955.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRYING TO GET TO YOU")

PRESLEY: (Singing) Where you said you loved me true. I've been traveling night and day. I've been running all the way, baby, trying to get to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MCCOY: Elvis did that just exactly like The Eagles - exactly - every breath, every sound, everything. He wasn't a big star at that point. We thought he was terrible because we thought he couldn't sing, but we were grateful. Thank God for Elvis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRYING TO GET TO YOU")

PRESLEY: (Singing) He would shine His brightest light when I was trying to get to you.

RICHMAN: 1955 was a big year for Rose and for American music. It was the beginning of something called rock 'n' roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MCCOY: When the rock 'n' roll come in, if you say you wrote rock 'n' roll, everybody wanted to see you and they wanted to hear what you had. And if they liked it they didn't care whether you was black or white. We thought it was the blues and they called it rock 'n' roll. I still don't know the difference.

RICHMAN: In those days, Rose wasn't just crossing the color line. She was also one of the few women in the business. Maxine Brown was a close friend of hers.

MAXINE BROWN: She knew how to hang in there with the big boys. Everyone was scrapping to get there, but it was always men. They were the producers. They were the promoters. They were the piano players. Women didn't have a place so she made a place for herself.

RICHMAN: Maxine Brown recorded a number of Rose's songs over the years, including this one, "Cry Together," which she still performs at every show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRY TOGETHER")

BROWN: (Singing) I know you gotta do what your heart tells you to, but if you find your heart's made a fool out of you. Don't let her know, baby. Don't let her see.

RICHMAN: When I first interviewed Rose she was 86. She told me that even though she was retired, she still woke up at night with new lyrics running through her head. Rose said writing songs always came naturally to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MCCOY: I just keep thinking anybody can do it 'cause it's like you talk. It's like you talk, and if you do that it just sort of writes itself.

RICHMAN: Rose Marie McCoy wrote an estimated 850 songs in her lifetime. She died last month at the age of 92. For NPR, I'm Joe Richman.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRY TOGETHER")

BROWN: (Singing) Don't feel guilty about leaving me alone.

CORNISH: To hear the original documentary about Rose Marie McCoy, check out the Radio Diaries podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRY TOGETHER")

BROWN: (Singing) That's the big question that will keep me company when you're gone. But if you ever find...

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