“Mrs. Country Music,” The Pioneering Rose Lee Maphis Has Died

The final half of the country music couple that was so revered and influential in the business they went by “Mr. and Mrs. Country Music” has passed on. Rose Lee Maphis, who along with her husband Joe Maphis, helped establish the Bakersfield Sound, and also was one of the first women to find stardom in the genre, died on Tuesday, October 26th. She was 98 years old, and had just been featured on Saving Country Music as one of country music’s Oldest Living Links and Legends.

Born December 29, 1922, in Baltimore, Maryland as Rose Lee Schetrompf, in 1939 when she was just 15, she was performing on the radio in Hagerstown, Maryland. Since “Schetrompf” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, she went by the name “Rose of the Mountains” since she often wore a flower in her hair, and one of her signature songs was “Carry Me Back to the Mountains.” She would perform for 15 minutes every Saturday night.

Later Rose became a member of the girl group called the Saddle Sweethearts who opened for Gene Autry and Roy Acuff, and was soon singing in cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis, working as a bookkeeper at her father’s racetrack when she was off the road. Later Rose went to Virginia to perform on the Old Dominion Barn Dance after the Carter Family left the program and was looking for female singers. This is eventually where she met a hot shot guitar player known for his fingerpicked melodies named Joe Maphis after he returned from serving in World War II.

Joe Maphis and Rose Lee Schetrompf would begin performing together, but wouldn’t be formally married and form a proper duo until the both moved out to California around 1951 at the suggestion of Merle Travis, who they initially lived with in his house. The couple got married in Tijuana, but when they found out the marriage may not be valid, they exchanged vows in Las Vegas as well.

After performing on barn dance programs for years, the duo was shocked at the electric country sound being forged in Bakersfield at the time, and co-wrote the now country standard, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)” inspired by what they experienced in California’s honky tonks. The song has gone on to be covered by scores of country artists, and is a signature composition of the Bakersfield Sound.

Soon the duo became known as “Mr. and Mrs. Country Music,” and was synonymous with the West Coast country scene. When Rose began performing less so the couple could start a family, Joe became a high demand session player and live performer. He one of the very first artists to play a double necked guitar made by Mosrite, and later was called “The King of the Strings.”

In 1962, Joe and Rose Lee collaborated with the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys for the album Rose Lee & Joe Maphis, which featured bluegrass duets. Then they released Mr. and Mrs. Country Music in 1964 while working with Merle Travis.

The couple moved their family to Nashville in 1968 to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, and over time Rose Lee elected to spend more time at home and pursue other roles in country music, contributing in many ways behind the scenes. Rose Lee worked as a costumer at Opryland for a time, and well into her 90’s she worked as a semi-incognito greeter at the Country Music Hall of Fame, handing out pamphlets, and pointing people in the right direction as the first entered the building—most unbeknown she once was a big country music star.

Joe Maphis passed away on June 27, 1986 due to lung Cancer. The couple had three children: Dale, Lorrie and Jody. Dale passed away in an automobile accident in 1989. Jody Maphis is a well-known drummer and guitarist who played with Johnny Cash, and more recently Marty Stuart and Gary Allan.

Rose Lee Maphis truly was a pioneer in country music, worthy of the “Mrs. Country Music” name. And now like so many of country’s original performers, she’s gone to join the big barn dance in the sky.

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