This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in December 2014.
The man behind the lyrics of Frosty the Snowman, Peter Cottontail, and Smokey the Bear is none other than West Virginian Jack Rollins. His song about a magical snowman coming to life and bringing holiday cheer can be heard almost everywhere this time of year. In 2011, Rollins was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
Rollins, who’s also known as the real Frosty the Snowman, was born in Scottdale, Pennsylvania on September 15, 1906, but he moved to Keyser, West Virginia with his family when he was three or four years old. He ended up growing up in Keyser and as an adult lived in New York, California, and Ohio, but West Virginia was always special to him.
“Your home is where your heart is, and his mother and his brother settled in Keyser, West Virginia,” said Rollins fan, Champ Zumbrun, “and he would come home at every opportunity while his mother was alive. In fact, if you go to [the] cemetery, he’s buried next to his mother.”
Zumbrun wrote an article in 2011 about Rollins’ life that was published in Allegany Magazine in Cumberland, Maryland. He’s a retired forest ranger from Maryland and he’s also a musician.
While working as a forester, he performed Jack Rollins’ song, Smokey the Bear every weekend for more than 30 years.
In 2011, Zumbrun received a surprising phone call.
“The chief of the Smokey Bear Program nationally learned that Jack Rollins, who wrote Smokey the Bear was going to be inducted to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame,” remembered Zumbrun, “and they were reaching out to the National Forest Service office to find out some information about Jack Rollins, and since I had been researching Jack Rollins, they contacted me, and connected me with the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, and they asked if I would share my information with them, and I said sure, anything to help Jack out.”
The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame also learned about Zumbrun’s history singing Smokey the Bear, so the group asked him if he would sing at Rollins’ induction ceremony. Zumbrun said yes.
The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame was, however, still looking for a family member to accept the award on Rollins’ behalf.
That’s when Jack Rollins’ grandson, James Busemeyer from Ohio, came forward to accept the award for his grandfather.
The song has become a classic. This time of year, we hear Frosty the Snowman playing on radio, television, movies, and in shopping centers.
It was written in 1950, but is still so popular today, and Champ Zumbrun knows why.
“Because I think people always need songs that are happy and have a message of joy and that’s what Jack was all about. If you want to know Jack Rollins just look at the lyrics in his songs. They’re happy, they’re innocent, they’re full of joy. I think people always need to celebrate and be reminded that life’s not drudgery, and there’s a spirit in life that’s joyful, and those songs if you listen to them are joyful, happy songs.”
The music of Frosty the Snowman, Peter Cottontail and Smokey the Bear was composed by Rollins’ partner, Steve Nelson.
Walter E. “Jack” Rollins died on January 1, 1973.