Jimmy Rose: At Peace with Coal

Photograph by Skip Bolen/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Jimmy Rose on “America’s Got Talent.”

Jimmy Rose is giving coal country a rare boost.

Rose, a former coal miner from Pineville, Kentucky, became an Appalachian folk hero — on Twitter, Facebook and in personal appearances in towns across the region — after offering his paean to coal on the television show America’s Got Talent earlier this month. In a style reminiscent of Bill Monroe or Willie Nelson, the 32-year-old singer warbled his way through a  song he wrote to the fossilized carbon, complete with evocative lines of how coal helps “my hometown.”

‘‘Coal keeps the lights on,’’ Rose sung at a July 9 audition, which ran on the show. “It keeps food on the spoon of my young’uns mouths, tires on the truck and a sundress on the back of my, baby girl.”

For coal’s supporters, the performance is a rare bit of support in a period marked by growing pressures.

The song does contain an overt political statement sure to draw notice from Republicans (and cut out of the version that aired on America’s Got Talent): “They’ve went plum down crazy in Washington, talking about shutting the mines down,” Rose sang in a version filmed at a concert and posted on YouTube. “They don’t care that much about the little man.”

Supporters of the fuel see a “War on Coal” begun in Washington by Obama and his environmental allies: Cheap natural gas is displacing coal for power generation. The Sierra Club is on a march to shutter 30 percent of the U.S. coal fleet by 2020.

And the dangers of mining it were on shown as a blast in 2010 killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

Rose himself illustrates the mixed picture of coal. Just days after graduating from high school, he said on the show, he
began work in the local coal mine.

“It’s such a hard life, and it’s dangerous,” he said then. “It made me think: If you are going to risk your life, risk it for your country.” So he left the mine and joined the Marines.}

His song, however, is all about the essential role coal plays, and that’s earned him a strong following after his  performance. His Facebook page has now gotten more than 54,000 likes. After he posted a picture of a fan wearing a shirt that said, “We support coal, dig it or strip it,” it touched of an emotional exchange between “tree huggers” opposed to strip mining and those saying that coal is key to the American electric supply.

“Every time I turn a light on I thank a coal miner for all their hard work!!” one commentator wrote. Another said he
wanted to buy two of those t-shirts “One for me and I would send the other one to Obama!”

The next round of America’s Got Talent airs on NBC tonight.


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