Career at a Glance
• Rogers started his career at the Light Fantastic on Brainerd Road in 1972 as a two-week replacement and has sung for a living ever since.
• In 1973, he began singing in The Station House at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
• From 1975-1983, Rogers toured the country, opening for such acts as Alabama, Steve Martin, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Suzy Bogguss and Roy Clark.
• In 1983, he beat out 2,000 other performers in the National Mountain Music Festival contest at Silver Dollar City in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and began singing there full-time soon after.
• In 1993, he partnered with the Dollywood Co. and opened Music Mansion as a co-owner; he was the star attraction there through 1998.
• In 1998, Music Mansion was sold and Rogers began doing regular shows at Dollywood.
• In 1997, his song "I Guard America" was adopted by the Enlisted Mens and Womens Association of the National Guard as their theme song; it was adopted by the National Guard in 1999.
• In 2002, he wrote and recorded "Fly Eagle Fly" for the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
• The following year, he wrote "Save the Eagle" as a benefit for the American Eagle Foundation.
• In 2002, Rogers returned to his North Georgia roots and hosts a Christmas show at the Colonnade in Catoosa County.
• In 2011, Rogers retired from performing regularly at Dollywood.
• Thursday at the Catoosa County Colonnade,7 p.m. $11.50-$20.50.
• Thursday, June 13, on the Unum Stage during this year's Riverbend.
James Rogers did not plan to spend almost 30 years performing in the Pigeon Forge area.
Like most aspiring musicians, he had dreams of a successful recording and touring career with lots of No. 1 hit singles. He came close, but he lost out an audition with a big agency to some guy from Texas named George Strait.
Strait went on to set a record by recording 59 No. 1 hits and Rogers went on to win a talent contest in Pigeon Forge followed by a career doing two shows a day, six days a week at a variety of venues in the Smoky Mountains for nearly three decades.
"We had 2,000 seats at Music Mansion and most of the time it was full," the 63-year-old Rogers says. "At $20 a ticket. I won a bunch of awards. I made a bunch of money. A bunch of money and I had a job to go to every single day.
"I looked around one day years ago and realized everything had worked out pretty well," Fort Oglethorpe native says.
Rogers retired from Dollywood last year, is selling his house in Sevierville, Tenn., and is moving back to this area. He will be hosting and performing during his 10th annual holiday show on Thursday at the Colonnade in Ringgold. After that, he has several other shows scheduled around the country over the next few months.
"I'm ready to get some rest and see what the next phase of my career will be."
Rogers worked with and for country superstar Dolly Parton for 27 years and, after his retirement, she wrote him a letter.
"You have always been there to support my dreams and needs to be the positive and entertaining face of Dollywood," she wrote to him in October. "Your wholesome and fun style is a testament to your personal character in everything you do."
Rogers' one-man shows at Dollywood was similar to the one he first created at the Station House at the Chattanooga Choo Choo shortly after it opened in 1973 as a tourist destination. He had a chance meeting and impromptu audition with owner B. Allen Casey and convinced him to give him a week to prove himself doing an early set for the dinner crowd.
"He sang a song for me and I thought, 'Gee, he has a beautiful voice,'" Casey says. "He said, 'Try me for a week and then you can decide how much to pay me.' At the end of the week, we were finding that people at 9 [p.m.] were still applauding him and we realized how many people were staying over and not turning over the seats. At the end of week two, they were clapping and chanting 'We want James.'
"It wasn't too long before Rogers became the featured act in the 9-midnight time slot," Casey says.
At Dollywood, Rogers' shows featured him performing original numbers as well as some standards along with comedy and some of the best special effects in the industry.
"We've always had some of the best people in the entertainment business doing choreography, designing sets and costumes," Rogers says.
He worked with Grammy-winning producer Al Henson before Henson headed to Branson, Mo., then with Patricia Morinelli, who had previously produced the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
"We did whatever we wanted to do," Rogers says. "All I had to do was imagine it and she did it," he says of Morinelli. "It was first class and you knew when you walked in.
"It was a wonderful time and it revolved around that one-man show I had created at the Station House. We had a real eagle fly around the auditorium."
For years, Challenger, an American bald eagle has been a part of the show, so much so that the theme park is now home to the American Eagle Foundation and the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary aviary exhibit and the Wings of America birds of prey show.
John Stokes of the Save Our American Raptors organization at Rock City will bring an eagle to the Colonnade show Thursday.
Rogers says the first part of the show will include much of the material he did at Dollywood with some new songs and the second half will be Christmas songs. The concert has become not only a homecoming for Rogers but for the people he grew up with.
"Even my 87-year-old mother will be there and my former teacher," he says. "We have a meet and greet afterwards and I stay until the last one has says hello. It's just a wonderful way to spend the evening."
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...