West Virginia songwriter Jack Rollins penned the best known Easter song 'Peter Cottontail'

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Jack Rollins, a native of Keyser, Mineral County, and a 2011 WV Music Hall of Fame inductee,  - is one of the quintessential “unsung heroes” of the music business. While few know him by name, it’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone,  young and old, 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 WV Music Hall of Fame along with Kathy Mattea, Connie Smith, Billy Cox, Tommy Thompson, Diamond Teeth Mary and Butch Miles on October 15, 2011. The ceremony will be held at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston and filmed for statewide broadcast by WV Public TV.

Rollins was born in Keyser, Mineral County, in 1906. As a young boy, he cared for his mother who was blinded by glaucoma soon after she married. To support the family, she sold magazines on the street. Jack helped out with a newspaper route. At night, he sat by her side while she wrote down verses she had made up. Using those words, Jack wrote his first songs.

As a young man, Rollins worked at a glass plant in Pittsburgh. He then moved to Mount Vernon, New York, where, he hired on as a baggage handler at Penn Station. He and wrote music on the side and sold his first song for five dollars. At age 40 he quit to pursue his dream of being a full time songwriter after getting an earful from an irate customer,. Gradually, the money got better - but not before he was forced to sell off some of his family’s possessions.

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 version by Guy Lombardo, Roy Rogers, Dinah Shore and many others. It went on to sell more than a million copies. 

The story of the familiar Easter song is a classic and, of course, involves a child. One morning, Nelson complained to Rollins that, in order to put his son to sleep he told him Peter Cottontail stories. Thinking the rabbit would make a good song, Rollins dashed off the lyrics in about six minutes. Nelson then added the music.

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.”  

More Peter Cottontail lore

In 1971, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” was produced as an Easter television special with the storyline based on the 1957 novel “The Easter Bunny That Overslept.” Rollins and Nelson’s song appeared in the special. In 2005, it was remade as the computer animated film “Here Comes Peter Cottontail: The Movie.” The film included a pop rock version of the original song.
For Gene Autry's recording of the song, click: 

For more info on Jack Rollins or the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame: 304/342-4412 wvmhof@gmail.com www.wvmusichalloffame.com