|On The Road With The Rockettes
before my family ever owned a television set, we often went to my Aunt
Rose’s house to watch tv. I can remember being there on nights that the
Jackie Gleason Show was on. The part I enjoyed most about that program
was watching the June Taylor Dancers. I tried to memorize some of their
dance routines, and when nobody was around, I sometimes pretended I was
one of that group. Back then, I had never heard of the Radio City Music
Hall Rockettes. If I had known about them, or had an opportunity to see
even just a part of one of their fantastic performances, I might have
even decided to run away from home to try and join up with them. It’s
not too likely that I would have succeeded, but when you’re young,
that’s the stuff dreams are made of. When I heard of someone who is
involved with the transporting of the Rockettes and equipment for their
shows, I got really excited at the prospects of doing an interview with
him. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jack Cummings of
Static, Tennessee, to talk about his job as a bus driver for Hemphill
Brothers Coach Company based in Nashville. Here is some background
information about Jack who, by the way, is the father of Jill McCormick,
wife of my nephew, Scott McCormick.
The Cummings family were photographed when the children were young. Back row: Mrs. Opal (Moles) Cummings and oldest son, Benny. Front row: Bill, Jack, Brenda, and Gary.
Jack Cummings is the son of the late Stanley Cummings who once served as Sheriff in Pickett County. Jack’s mother, Opha Moles Cummings, who also lives in Static, helped provide for her family by working at garment factories in this area. The Cummings family consisted of four boys and one girl, Benny, Bill, Jack, Brenda, and Gary. Jack graduated from Pickett County High School in 1969, and after doing a tour of duty with the United States Army, began driving a truck. He was self-employed for 13 years, but after stopping by Fitzgerald’s on Highway 127 one day, a business that builds custom-made trucks, he soon found himself employed by none other than the well-known country music artist, Lorrie Morgan. Fitzgeralds was in the process of building a custom truck for Ms. Morgan, and Jack learned while he was there that she was in need of a driver, a job he ended up taking. Jack described Lorrie as a "wonderful boss." He went on to say that "If we did a show cross-country, such as Las Vegas, I was usually sent out two or three days ahead of time to give me plenty of time to get there. She always did everything possible to make sure that I drove legal and safe." "Another great thing about that job was that I rarely ever touched the load I was hauling." Someone was always scheduled to unload the truck when it arrived so that Jack could get to a hotel and rest. The truck Jack drove for Lorrie Morgan carried all the audio equipment along with other things necessary for one of her shows.
Jack Cummings of Static, Tennessee, poses with his former employer, country music star, Lorrie Morgan.
In 2003, Jack went to work for Hemphill Brothers Coach Company, a business that started out as a family traveling around singing gospel music. In 1974, Joel W. Hemphill, Sr., started a bus leasing company as a sideline, and since then, that business has grown to include 90 buses with approximately 110 drivers. Just a small portion from the list of their impressive clients includes the Beach Boys, Cher, Kiss, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Tim McGraw, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, Marty Stuart, Dolly Parton, Oprah Winfrey, Good Morning America, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course, the Rockettes. Even President Obama’s name is included as a client.
When transporting the Rockettes, Jack drives one of the buses carrying crew members. Three additional buses transport the Rockettes. If a tour is a lengthy one involving two or three months on the road, it requires as many as 26 trucks and 13 buses to carry everything and everyone necessary to put on a show. Carpenters, audio crew members, catering service, nannies, and teachers are in the very large number who are part of the show.
Making sure members of the Rockettes' crew arrive safely at their tour destination is just a part of Jack Cummings' job requirements as a bus driver for Hemphill Brothers Coach Company.
Information from the internet says this about the Rockettes. This group was founded in in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri by Russell Markert, and originally performed as the "Missouri Rockets." They are a well-known precision dance company performing out of the Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City. During the Christmas season, the Rockettes have performed five shows a day, seven days a week, for 77 years. Perhaps their best-known routine is an eye-high leg kick in perfect unison in a chorus line, which they include at the end of every performance. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is performed annually at Radio City Music Hall and in numerous other American and Canadian cities. It is one of the most-watched live shows in the United States, with over 2 million viewers per year. The Rockettes perform annually at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. The NBC Rockefeller Center Tree-Lighting Ceremony also traditionally includes a performance by the dance troupe.
Another client of Hemphill Brothers Coach Company Jack has been the driver for is Béla Fleck, someone who is often considered the premier banjo player in the world. Jack explained to me that it was through Béla Fleck he learned where the banjo originated. I had no idea that instrument is actually a descendent of African musical instruments, and was created in the American and Caribbean colonies by African slaves. It made its way into white music when slaves interacted with white sharecroppers and their music blended.
Information from Béla Fleck’s website says the is he a native of New York and picked up the banjo at age 15 after being awed by the bluegrass music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. While still in high school Fleck began experimenting with playing bebop jazz on his banjo. In 1982, Fleck joined the bluegrass band New Grass Revival, making a name for himself on countless solo and ensemble projects ever since as a virtuoso instrumentalist. In 1989 he formed the group called Flecktones. More recently he has recorded fourteen new songs during a journey from Nashville to Mali, Gambia, Tanzania and Uganda to collaborate with African musicians.
At the time of this interview, a upcoming trip to Canada for a tour with Tim McGraw was on Jack’s schedule. When I asked Jack if he ever got tired of this type of job, he told me that what bothered him most about it was being away from home and his family so much. Last year, the number of days he worked totaled 300. His family consists of his wife, Stacy, who is the assistant financial director for UCHRA in Cookeville. In addition to daughter, Jill, Jack and Stacy have two sons, Jacob and Sam, along with four grandchildren, Emma, Jaden, and Harper Cummings, the children of son, Jacob, and Tyler McCormick, daughter of Scott and Jill McCormick.
Having the opportunity to do an interview with Jack is probably the closest I’ll ever come to my childhood dream of being associated with a very talented dance group. But that’s okay, I enjoyed the interview, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on the happiness writing stories has brought me. Besides that, I also looked at the auditions part of the Rockettes website and found that at this stage of the game, other than being tall enough, I would be very left out of the necessary qualifications required.
Thanks, Jack, for letting us get an idea of what it’s like to be a part of the entertainment industry. Putting on a show certainly is much more involved than most people would ever imagine, myself included. From a spectator’s position, it would seem that getting on stage at a place like the Ryman Auditorium in the early days didn’t take much more effort that hooking up the microphone and having someone operate the spotlight. Times surely have changed!