Working on It
Jimmie Rodgers was the first major star of country music, known for adding his trademark “blue yodel” to vaudeville and hillbilly songs. His persona was as important as the music, and Rodgers cultivated a larger-than-life image as someone who had lived out all his songs about trains, whiskey, and women.
For most of his life, though, Rodgers was wracked by tuberculosis. In 1933, the year he died, the Census Bureau reported 67,422 deaths from respiratory tuberculosis in the continental United States (a rate of 53.6 per 100,000 people). Tuberculosis remained the most common type of death from infection, even if cancers and heart disease edged it out as the overall leading cause of death. Tuberculosis spreads through the air, propelled by coughs and sneezes. While the disease can affect the brain, bones, and other organs, in most people it infects the lungs, leading to uncontrolled coughing, fever, and wasting away.