Mimi Roman / Rockin' Country Style

Mimi Roman

Mimi Roman was a country singer who flirted with fame in the 1950s, cutting a handful of sides that earned her the respect of her peers and a small fan following despite not scoring a major hit. Roman was a versatile singer who could and did adjust her vocal style to suit upbeat country numbers, dreamy love songs, playful novelty tracks, and splashy show tunes while sounding classy at every turn, never overplaying the emotions or attitudes of the songs. Roman also recorded pop material under the name Kitty Ford, and while she never released an album under either name during her active career, the Sundazed label offered a thorough sampling of her recorded work on a pair of 2022 compilations: First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls as Mimi Roman, and Pussycat as Kitty Ford.

Mimi Roman was born Miriam Lopolito in the Bronx, New York, on April 20, 1934. Her parents split up when she was young, and when she was ten, her mother Estelle, a former dancer, got married a second time to Max Rothman, who ran a successful pickle company. The new Rothman family settled in Brooklyn, where Mimi grew to love horses. A number of riding stables operated in Brooklyn, and she became an accomplished equestrian, falling in with a group of other young people who called themselves the Brooklyn Cowboys. She became a skilled rider who won numerous trophies in regional competitions, and was also a talented target shooter. Mimi had already learned to play piano and guitar and had dreams of becoming a cabaret singer, but when one of her riding friends introduced her to the music of Hank Williams, she became a serious country music fan. At the age of 19, Mimi competed in New York's Madison Square Garden Rodeo, one of the biggest events of its kind in the country. (Afraid the name Rothman would sound too Jewish to the out-of-town rodeo riders, she dropped the "T" from her last name and entered as Mimi Rohman, later streamlining it further to Roman.) She was named Rodeo Queen, an honor given to the horsewoman judged the best in appearance, personality, and skill as a rider. As part of her prize, Mimi performed each night with legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry during the rodeo's four-week run. A few months later, she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's popular Talent Scouts television series; she performed Hank Williams' "Weary Blues from Waitin'," and won first prize.

Further appearances on Godfrey's daytime variety show led to a string of personal appearances and a regular spot on Midwestern Hayride, a country & western-themed show broadcast out of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1954, she was signed to Decca Records as Mimi Roman, and later that year, she issued her debut single, "Oh! I Like It" b/w "Weary Blues from Waitin'." (Afraid some country fans would not accept a Jewish country singer from Brooklyn, Decca fabricated a biography that had her born and raised in California before her family moved to the Big Apple in her teens.) Roman worked with producer Owen Bradley, who also guided Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Brenda Lee in the studio, and between 1955 and 1958 she cut nine singles for the label. She toured extensively (including 60 weeks with the traveling Philip Morris Country Music Show) and appeared several times on the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride. Roth was a sure hand with uptempo country numbers, proto-rockabilly dance tunes, and more graceful countrypolitan sides, and Decca also had her cut some teen-oriented material in the manner of Connie Francis. However, none of her Decca material made an impression on the sales charts, and she left the label, cutting two singles for Kapp in 1959 and 1960, and two more for Warner Bros. in 1961 and 1962, none of which came close to being a hit.

In 1962, Roth wed Paul Evans, a singer and songwriter who was working in New York as a contract tunesmith. Tired of the road and eager to start a family, she let go of her career as a country singer. She didn't want to give up a musical career entirely, so she landed a job as a house vocalist at Associated Recording Studios, a recording facility a short walk from the Brill Building, then the heart of New York's music business. Associated Recording's bread and butter was recording demo discs for publishing companies and professional songwriters, simple but well-crafted sample recordings that would allow producers and artists to hear what their songs would sound like. At Associated Recording, Roth sang demos for many of the leading pop songwriters and Broadway composers of the day (including Burt Bacharach, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka), and a number of her demo sides attracted the attention of record companies, which found them worthy of release.

Roth created a separate identity for her work as a studio singer, and she appeared on a handful of singles as Kitty Ford, singing novelty songs, sophisticated pop, show tunes, and occasional material for film, television, and commercials. Kitty Ford had no more success on the charts than Mimi Roman, but the work was steady and won her a reputation as a talented and versatile professional. After ten years with Associated Recording, she moved on and worked as a talent buyer for nightclubs, hosted a radio show, and sold real estate, while occasionally performing club dates with a country band.

Mimi Roman Biography - by Mark Deming

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