On October 8th, the New York Emmy for Arts-Short Form went to Rose Marie McCoy: It’s Gonna Work Out Fine! The State of the Arts team was thrilled, to say the least! I produced the 7-minute story, which premiered on NJ PBS in October 2021.
Rose Marie McCoy (1922—2015) was one-of-a-kind. She seemed to have been born with a song in her heart, and she loved life no matter where she found herself. Marie (her given name) grew up in what she remembered as a “tin roof shack” in Arkansas’s Mississippi Delta. In high school, she was a star—member of the debating team, the choral club, and elected football queen. Marie and her sister went to the legendary all-black Eliza Miller High School in Helena, opened in 1926 by an African-American entrepreneur, educator and the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas. Upon graduation, Marie received a scholarship to a nearby college, but she had made up her mind that she wanted to be a singer. After working on the farm with her parents for a year, she changed her name to “Rose Marie” and boarded a bus for New York City.
It was the beginning of a career that began by working days in a Chinese Laundry and singing gigs nights and weekends on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Rose made some recordings, but found her lasting fame by writing songs for Moms Mabley, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Ike and Tina Turner, and many, many others—she published over 800 songs, most of them recorded. Rose Marie McCoy: It’s Gonna Work Out Fine is an introduction to Rose’s story, featuring archival footage of Rose, as well as interviews with Arlene Corsano, music publisher Isidro Otis, and fellow songwriter Herman Kelley. There are photos from her life, and new footage of Arkansas shot by Memphis cameraman Peter Braswell. And there is her music.
I first learned of Rose’s story from Arlene Corsano, Rose’s friend and biographer. Arlene has made it a mission to share Rose’s story, and arranges live performances of her songs and other events. As I delved further into the research, it struck me that Rose’s greatest talent may have been the way she embraced new opportunities. After Rose was sent to live with her grandmother in Helena, she took full advantage of the good education she was offered (high schools for Black teens were few and far between back then). Arriving in New York, she worked hard to make it as a Rhythm and Blues singer—but when her songs started catching on, Rose devoted herself to writing. Both Black and white singers recorded her songs, as Rock ‘n’ Roll was breaking down popular music’s color line in the 1950s and ‘60s. Rose was now making money—she bought herself a Cadillac and furs—but she wanted to buy a house. Redlining was prevalent in the 1960s, and Rose and her husband James McCoy were prevented from buying in most places. But in Teaneck, New Jersey, they found a house in what became an affluent Black neighborhood. Rose lived there for more than 50 years. Towards the end of her life, she was teaching herself to record and edit with the newest computer audio programs. Rose was never intimidated by a challenge!
An Incubation Grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities made it possible for me to fully research Rose’s story, and to arrange for filming in Arkansas. Finishing funds and the chance to have the story broadcast were provided by State of the Arts, a project of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Stockton University in cooperation with PCK Media.
On November 20, the Teaneck International Film Festival will feature Rose Marie McCoy: It’s Gonna Work Out Fine in a special evening sponsored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Bergen/Passaic Chapter and the YWCA Northern New Jersey. It will be followed by a talkback with Rose’s biographer Arlene Corsano. Tickets are on sale now.
There may still be a full documentary in the works—stay tuned.
Producer/Director, Rose Marie McCoy: It’s Gonna Work Out Fine