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Rose Marie McCoy, a Songwriter for Rock, Pop and Jazz Legends, Dies at 92

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Rose Marie McCoy was a collaborator on some 850 songs.
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For a woman who composed or collaborated on some 850 songs over seven decades, Rose Marie McCoy, who died on Jan. 20 at 92, was largely unheralded, recognized only belatedly in a nationwide radio documentary.

But her songs, spanning R&B, rock ’n’ roll, jazz and gospel, were widely heard, recorded by scores of singers, including Big Maybelle, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Mathis, Bette Midler, Elvis Presley, Ike and Tina Turner, and Sarah Vaughan.

“When the rock ’n’ roll come in, if you say you wrote rock ’n’ roll, everybody wanted to see,” Ms. McCoy recalled in the documentary, on National Public Radio in 2009. “They wanted to hear what you had. And if they liked it, they didn’t care whether you’re black or white. We thought it was the blues, and they used to call it rock ’n’ roll. I still don’t know the difference.”

When she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, the citation noted that in 2006, when American Songwriter magazine compiled a list of nine all-time great songwriters, she was the only woman.

Rose Marie Hinton was born on April 19, 1922, to Levi and Celetia Brazil Hinton in a tin-roof shack in Oneida, Ark. — “the kind of place you pass through without even knowing you’re passing through it,” Ms. McCoy said. Her father was a farmer. In 1942, when she was 19, she ventured to New York with $6 in her pocket to launch a singing career.

Living in Harlem and supporting herself by ironing shirts in a Chinese laundry in New Jersey, she got gigs at nightclubs and eventually at Harlem’s Baby Grand, Detroit’s Flame Show Bar, Cincinnati’s Sportsmen’s Club and Toronto’s Basin Street, and opened for seasoned performers like Ruth Brown, Moms Mabley, Dinah Washington and Dewey Markham, who was known as Pigmeat.

In her spare time, she wrote songs.

“After All” was recorded in 1946 by the Dixieaires with Muriel Gaines. In the early 1950s, she was signed to Wheeler Records and co-wrote “Gabbin’ Blues,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart. She began collaborating with Charlie Singleton, meeting at 6 o’clock in the morning in a booth at Beefsteak Charlie’s, near the Brill Building, the music industry’s temple in Times Square.

They wrote the 1954 ballad “Trying to Get to You” for the Eagles, a black vocal group, but RCA Records signed another young singer after he agreed to include the song in his repertoire.

“We thought he was terrible because we thought he couldn’t sing,” Ms. McCoy recalled.

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Ms. McCoy began her career an aspiring singer before she started writing songs for others. CreditJames J Kriegsmann 

The singer was Elvis Presley. Their song ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks.

“Thank God for Elvis,” she told Joe Richman of Radio Diaries in the NPR documentary, titled “Lady Writes the Blues.” The song concludes:

Lord above you knows I love you 

It was He who brought me through

When my way was dark at night, 

He would shine His brightest light.

When I was trying to get to you.

By 1961, when she collaborated on Ike and Tina Turner’s “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” which earned them a Grammy nomination for best performance, she had her own office in the Brill Building. The song includes the lines:

Darling, it’s time to get next to me

Darling, I never thought that this could be

Your lips set my soul on fire

You could be my one desire

Oh darling, I think it’s gonna work out fine

In the 1970s, Ms. McCoy wrote a jazz album with Sarah Vaughan and composed jingles, including one sung by Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles for Coca-Cola. As recently as a few years ago, she collaborated on a country music album with Billy Joe Conor.

Ms. McCoy married James McCoy, a supervisor at Ford Motor Company, in 1943. He died in 2000. She lived in Teaneck, N.J., until several years ago, when she joined a niece, Helen Brown, in Illinois. She died in Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ms. Brown said.

In the radio interview, Ms. McCoy said she would still wake up in the middle of the night with whole new songs in her head.

“I should’ve got up and wrote it down,” she said. “But you say, ‘What’s the use? Like, I’m retired now.’ ”

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