Jimmie Rodgers’s recordings present nearly all of the yodel types used by hillbilly singers, including nonsense-syllable strands, breaking voice registers while singing words, and brief falsetto grace-note descents into his natural voice. His yodels contain influences from both African American (falsetto upward leap at the end of words) and European (word-breaking) traditions.
Home tropes evoke themes of home, family, regret, return, or nostalgia; subdominant tropes represent carefree cheerfulness; blues tropes conjure masculine braggadocio themes.
Rodgers applies grace notes according to the pathos of the lyrics, and his hummed or moaned yodels are toned down for mainstream appeal. He was a carrier of tradition—his yodels connect to ragtime and blues, as well as to nineteenth-century European yodels, song types, and decorative devices.
This according to “Jimmie Rodgers and the semiosis of the hillbilly yodel” by Timothy Wise (The musical quarterly XCIII/1 [spring 2010] pp. 6–44). Above, Rodgers with his 1930 Model A Ford in Kerrville, Texas. Below, the Yodeling Brakeman offers a semiotic exegesis on the letter T.
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