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Elvis kept following me! Mimi Roman and Elvis Presley

'Elvis kept following me!' Country singer Mimi Roman on her all-star life.

She went from rodeo queen to right-hand girl of the King - but a confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan made her shy from the spotlight. Now she's finally ready to take her bow

'Oh good, they didn't send me the photograph of me and Elvis to sign'. Mimi Roman is opening mail in the kitchen of her Connecticut home on an autumn afternoon. 'I get three or four fan letters a week and they all send me that picture of me and Elvis to autograph. I just hate that picture. I hate that dress I'm wearing and the bag I'm carrying. I just wish there were one other picture out there'.

Although her friendship with a pre-fame Elvis is often the first line of her bio, Roman has her own place in history as one of country music's first female success stories, as well as a Zelig of rock and pop's early years. She witnessed the birth of rock'n'roll, rockabilly and country's sophisticated 'Nashville sound'; performed on iconic stages such as the Grand Ole Opry and recorded demos for the the golden-era songwriters of New York City's Brill Building. But by the mid-80s, she had quit the business to prioritise family time and became an estate agent - and later assistant to the musician Michael Bolton.

In that same kitchen during lockdown, Roman received a call from documentarian Joe Hopkins, which resulted in the film Brooklyn Cowgirl: The Mimi Roman Story, released last year. It led to an invitation to perform at this year's Swelltune Records Bay State Barn Dance in Beverly, Massachusetts. And so, in early September, the 89-year-old performed for the first time in 40 years. 'I never say no', she says. 'If a door opens, I walk through'.

We retire to her living room where the guitar that has accompanied her throughout her career lies in its case, her name inlaid along the fretboard. In 1934, Roman was born Miriam Lapolito, daughter of a Radio City Music Hall rockette and a Bronx bookmaker. By age 10 she was Mimi Rothman after her mother remarried and moved to Brooklyn. In the 40s, the borough offered wide-open spaces, stables and bridle paths and Mimi fell in with a group of equestrians called the Brooklyn Cowboys. Before long she became a sharp-shooting, prize-winning horse rider. When the annual rodeo came to Madison Square Garden, Mimi Rothman entered as Mimi Rohman - having discovered that one of the judges was antisemitic - and was named rodeo queen.

Her love affair with country music had started at 16 when a friend played her Jimmie Rodgers' Waiting for a Train. 'The simplicity of the song and the story - I just fell in love with the music', she recalls. 'I just craved it, so I would spend my nights trying to get radio stations from places like West Virginia, Washington and Texas'. She began singing and made her way on to the television talent show circuit, and in Tennessee was introduced to the pre-fame Everly Brothers. Although she failed to convince them that they needed a female singer, they became friends and Roman accompanied them when they visited New York. 'They were really two completely different personalities', she says. 'Phil was goofy and he was kind of funny and Don was very serious. I was friends with the goofy one'.

Roman was soon invited to perform on Cincinnati's Midwestern Hayride TV show and recorded a daily 15-minute radio show with the pre-fame country group the Willis Brothers. 'The funny part was at the end I had to sing a hymn', Mimi laughs. 'You know how many hymns a Jewish singer from Brooklyn knows? Not too many! I learned on the job'.

Roman landed a recording deal with Decca. Owen Bradley, her future producer and a key architect of the Nashville sound, played piano on her first recordings, made in the empty Ryman auditorium - home of the Grand Ole Opry radio show. 'That affected me more than any of the other shows I did', says Roman. 'I had listened to the Opry on the radio for so many years and I knew all the artists like Hank Williams who had been on that stage. It meant something to me'. She would soon perform on the same stage, for WSMU's radio broadcast.

This was at the dawn of the Nashville sound, which would replace the gritty honky tonk sound with more polished and accessible productions featuring crooning vocals, piano and, often, backing singers and strings. Roman became one of the few women to break through in that era. 'When Mimi started, Nashville had all these preconceived notions that young women didn't sell records or tickets', says singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell, who discovered Roman while hosting a country music radio show in the early 90s. 'Loretta Lynn hadn't had hits yet and Patsy Cline was just getting started, so there weren't that many models for successful women in country music. Mimi bridged a period between the honky tonk era and the emergence of rock'n'roll, which would upend things in Nashville and tilt it towards it finding another commercial sound that could compete with it. Mimi was there right at that moment'.

Mimi Roman and Elvis Presley.
Mimi Roman and Elvis Presley.

Her label Decca soon dropped the 'h' from her name and rebranded her as Mimi Roman from

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