Mimi Roman was a country music star in the 1950s.
Being from New York may seem disqualifying, but she grew up with horses in Brooklyn in the 30s and 40s. Roman fell in love with country music when a friend played her Hank Williams records, and she left. .
Roman signed a recording contract and worked with legendary Nashville guitarist Chet Atkins and famed producer Owen Bradley – who helped establish “The Nashville Sound” and produced music for Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitter and many more. She has also performed at the Grand Ole Opry several times.
Along the way, Roman dated Elvis, The Everly Brothers and June Carter, while opening for Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb and Bill Monroe.
Her albums, “Mimi Roman, The First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls” and “Kitty Ford, Pussycat” are reissued by Yep Roc Records.
Roman – now 88 and living in Connecticut – recently joined WUNC to discuss his career, moving from Brooklyn to Nashville, country music and meeting the genre’s biggest stars.
This is an excerpt from an edited transcript of that conversation. You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this article.
Can you explain how a girl born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn fell in love with country music?
“A friend of mine introduced me to music under strange circumstances. I had a horse that was golden very late and very sensitive in the back area. And I told him – the friend – not to trying to jump behind me, which he He went up, he came down and my horse stepped on him and broke his leg.
“And I felt so bad and so guilty that I used to go every day and bring him, you know, lunch or something. And he had this collection of Hank Williams records and by Jimmy Rogers and he played them for me. And I really got into the music. And there was something about the stories and the music itself. It just hit me and I fell in love with it. .
There were rumors that you and Elvis were dating, but you denied that. Can you talk about your relationship with Mr. Presley?
“He was just a lovely, lovely young man. When I met him – he was, I think, 19, and I was 20 – he knew me because I had put out a few records. We were at the disc jockey convention in Nashville in 1955. I will never forget the first time I saw him because he was wearing a pink lace shirt and black pants. And for a man, wearing a lace shirt at that time was pretty shocking to me and he said, ‘Mrs. Roman, I like your music, and I thought maybe we could talk.’
“And I was like, ‘Oh, well, I can’t spend a lot of time with him,’ because that outfit was so weird to me. So I was like, ‘Wait here and I’ll be back. And we let’s discuss.’ And then I went somewhere else. And you know, I work the play, as they say, and he kept traveling after me. And so we became friends.
“He came to New York. He really didn’t like New York, and he didn’t particularly like New Yorkers, but I was the only person he knew. So he called me and we We went out to dinner and then we went to the movies, because he loved movies. That was really what he wanted to be, a movie star. And it was just amazing. Like I said, you know , he was watching the movie and I was watching him, because he was so handsome. And he was so nice. We would never go anywhere without him calling his mom and nobody knew who he was. I mean, we could go anywhere and do whatever we wanted. And nobody bothered him, because he hadn’t done (the Ed Sullivan Show) yet. He hadn’t done that. And so nobody in New York didn’t know who he was. So we just hung out and you know, played music. And the last time I saw him, he had the script for his first movie. And I read with him. , so that he can repeat lines and everything. And I thought he was on his way.
You traveled with the Philip Morris Country Music Show during the Jim Crow era. But this tour would not play for a separate audience. One of your stops was in New Bern at a giant tobacco warehouse, where you were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.
“Oh, yeah, that was memorable. I mean, it’s the kind of thing you never really forget. We had Klan activity with the driving while we were playing, because, you know , we don’t separate our audience. So, that One particular night, they were going to make a statement. We drove the bus to the warehouse and performed in front of a standing audience. And as soon as we finished the show, we We jumped on this bus and when we left, the Klan was (behind) us, we had a police escort in front of us. And they took us to the border. They were scary people.
You took on the name Kitty Ford when you were recording pop songs in the early 1960s. Was it an effort to make a fresh start?
“No, it was really more that I was under the obligation of different labels at the time. And so, I wasn’t supposed to record anything for anybody else. So, they said, “Well, let’s just give another name to put these other discs. I said, ‘What about a small car, like a small Ford?’ And they thought it was funny. So that’s where Kitty Ford is from. Many things in there are demos. Some of them were released and became records of other artists. And some of them, you know, never did, but those are the ones that I enjoyed the most. I obviously like the country album. It was my bread and butter, but the Pussycat album is kind of a vanity project.
“Mimi Roman, The Brooklyn Cowgirl Premiere” is out now along with “Kitty Ford, Pussycat.” You can find them wherever you stream or buy music.