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'Peter Cottontail' songwriter Rollins to be inducted

Apr. 23, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

If you're singing "Peter Cottontail" this Easter weekend you can thank West Virginia native and 2011 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame inductee Jack Rollins of Keyser in Mineral County.

It's not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone is familiar with at least one of his songs.

Rollins' best known compositions, "Peter Cottontail" and "Frosty the Snowman," are two of America's most popular children's holiday songs.

Rollins will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame along with Kathy Mattea, Connie Smith, Billy Cox, Tommy Thompson, Diamond Teeth Mary and Butch Miles on Oct. 15.

Rollins was born in Keyser in 1906. As a young man, Rollins worked at a glass plant in Pittsburgh. He then moved to Mount Vernon, N.Y., where he was a baggage handler at Penn Station. He and wrote music on the side and sold his first song for $5. At age 40 he quit to pursue his dream of being a full-time songwriter.

In 1949, Rollins wrote the lyrics to the song "Peter Cottontail" with Steve Nelson writing the music. The song was originally recorded by Gene Autry with subsequent versions by Guy Lombardo, Roy Rogers, Dinah Shore and many others. It went on to sell more than a million copies.

Rollins, who wrote about 500 songs in his career, also wrote "Smokey the Bear" in 1952. While the USDA Forest Service's 1944 campaign featured a character named "Smokey Bear," it was Rollins who added the "the" -- as he was unable to fit "Smokey Bear" into the lyrics.

Rollins also co-wrote songs for country stars including George Jones and Eddy Arnold. His song "I Don't Hurt Anymore" was a No. 1 hit for Hank Snow in 1953 and Johnny Cash recorded it on his last release, "American VI: Ain't No Grave."

For more info on Jack Rollins or the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame call 304-342-4412, or e-mail wvmhof@gmail.com or visit www.wvmusichalloffame.com.