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Mae Boren Axton (September 14, 1914 in Bardwell, TexasmarkerApril 9, 1997 in Hendersonville, Tennesseemarker) was known in the music industry as the 'Queen Mother of Nashville'.She received a co-writer credit for the song "Heartbreak Hotel" made popular by Elvis Presley.

She was an influential member of the Nashville music industry. For decades she used her influence to contribute to the success of many musical careers including Mel Tillis, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Tillotson and Blake Shelton to name a few.

Personal life

Mae Boren was the only daughter of Mark L. and Nannie Boren. Lyle Boren, one of her eight brothers, was one of the youngest members elected to the US Congress in 1936. The family moved from Texas to Oklahoma when Mae was two. She attended East Central State College and the University of Oklahomamarker, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism. She obtained a public teaching certificate and taught English and journalism at schools in Broken Bowmarker, Mooremarker, Waltersmarker, Frederickmarker and Adamarker.

Mae married John T. Axton, an officer in the US Navy, and they had two sons, country star Hoyt Axton, born March 25, 1938 in Duncan, Oklahomamarker, and a younger son, John, who became an attorney. The family lived in Comanche, Oklahomamarker during the children's pre-teen years.

In 1949, Mae's husband was stationed in Jacksonville, Floridamarker; the family moved there. She taught English at Paxon School for Advanced Studies and Alfred I. duPont High School.

Mae was a schoolteacher by profession but had a strong passion for music . In the 1950s rock and roll was quickly becoming popular among the kids and unpopular among most others. For Mae as a school teacher to become its ally was viewed by many as incredibly hypocritical. Nonetheless, she pushed forward in her endeavors as an advocate of the music that would end up changing the industry forever.

Music

Axton was also the link between Elvis Presley and RCA Records; she states in her 1973 artist biographies, Country Singers as I Know ‘Em, that she introduced the Colonel to a 19-year-old Presley after Elvis promotor in Memphis, Bob Neal contacted her about helping Elvis as Neal was closing his promotion business. Additionally, she "hounded" RCA’s Nashville division head, Stephen H. Sholes, to sign Presley.

Mae tells of the day in 1955 when she and a disc jockey and accomplished musician from Jacksonville named Tommy Durden wrote Heartbreak Hotel. Durden actually got the idea after reading Miami Herald story about a man who had cut the labels off his clothing and destroyed all documents that could identify him, then left a one-line suicide note: "I walk a lonely street", before killing himself. She said that she reacted as strongly as Tommy did to this devastating end to a life. When she finished reading, Mae stated to Tommy that everyone has someone who cares, and when those who love him learn of his death, they'll be broken-hearted, so let's put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of that lonely street. Tommy responded with, "That would make a good song." They both said let's write it! About that time another of their song writing friends, Glenn Reeves (one time director of Wheeling, West Virginiamarker's WWVA Jamboree) walked into the room and was invited to co-write the song, but declined. Twenty minutes later the song was on tape, Reeves returned heard it and was not impressed but agreed to do an Elvis like demo for the pair. The wheels were turning for a history making song.

Mae first sent the song to Bob Neal insisting it could be Elvis first number one hit, but Elvis wouldn't hear it for awhile. Mae also had to go to Daytona on business later that week to meet with the Colonel and while there she meet with another friend, bass player, Buddy Killen who was trying to start a publishing company in Nashville. He loved Heartbreak Hotel as did his partner, Grand Ole Opry Show Director,Jack Stapp. Heartbreak Hotel would be a founding song for a hugely successful publishing company called Tree, which would later be known as Sony Tree. Mae headed to the Disc Jockey Convention in Nashville with her extra copy of Heartbreak Hotel and a tape player. She found Bob Neal and Elvis in the lobby and ask Elvis if had heard the song yet. He said he had not and Bob stated that he had not played it for Elvis yet, so she invited him and Neal up to her room to hear Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis loved the dark brooding song. The change of management to the Colonel and a new label to RCA ushered in the success of the King of Rock n' Roll and of an unassuming educator who wouldn't take no for an answer - never - ever - if she believed in it!

Momma Mae wrote some 200 songs, 14 of which made the charts, with "Heartbreak Hotel" being number one on the pop chart for 8 weeks, the country chart for 17 weeks and reaching number 3 on the R&B chart.

Elvis Presley also recorded "Never Been To Spain" which was written by her son Hoyt Axton, thus recording songs by both mother and son.

Death

In 1997 at the age of 82, Mae drowned in her hot tub at her home in Hendersonville, TNmarker after an apparent heart attack.

References

Further reading

Country Singers as I Know 'Em by Mae Boren Axton; Sweet Publishing Co., 1973; 384 pagesFrom the Window of My Heart (Poems to Live By) by Mae Boren Axton; illustrated by Hoyt Axton; Cantrell Publishing Co., 1989; 60 pages

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