Thursday, August 16th, 2012
Coming to prominence during golden ages in film, radio, and television, Gene Autry was the internationally recognized singing cowboy.
Autry was the descendants of the very first settlers in Texas, and grew up in the wide open spaces he’d later immortalize on record and in films. He learned guitar at a young age, and was a performer in his spare time while he pursued more realistic goals.
While working as a telegraph operator, he was killing his boredom by singing and playing his guitar. By chance, a customer named Will Rogers heard him, and encouraged him to pursue a career in radio performance. Within a year, he was auditioning in New York, releasing demos and singles for Victor and Columbia before signing an exclusive deal with the American Record Corporation.
His first big release, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”, sold more than half a million copies. Throughout the thirties and forties, he would go on to release singles that sold in the millions and defined the Country & Western sound, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Back in the Saddle Again.” Through his popularity on national radio programs as Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, he brought Western music to a wider audience.
His singing cowboy image was cemented by his appearances in more than ninety films, where he sang his songs and played roles consistent with his “Home on the Range” image. He is widely credited for reviving the Western film genre, and his popularity on the silver screen further fueled his record sales. His career was briefly detoured by a stint in the army during World War II, but he returned to the states as popular as ever, and the experience led to his classic hit, “At Mail Call Today.”
As popular tastes changed, Autry moved into the arena of television, starring in his own show from 1950-1956. While his Western records had decreased in popularity, Autry’s ability to handle pop material led him to record a handful of secular Christmas singles that are still played on radio more than sixty years later, along with perhaps the only successful attempt at a secular Easter single with “Peter Cottontail.”
Autry moved away from performing and toward business interests later in life, most notably an ownership share in the Anaheim Angels and a stint as Vice President of the MLB American League. By the time he passed away at age 91, he’d been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. He is also the only performer in history to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of their five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater.
- That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, 1932
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1935
- Back in the Saddle Again, 1939
- South of the Border (Down Mexico Way), 1939
- Blueberry Hill, 1940
- You are My Sunshine, 1941
- At Mail Call Today, 1945
- Home on the Range, 1947
- (Ghost) Riders in the Sky,1949
Essential Holiday Singles:
- Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane), 1947
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1949
- Peter Cottontail, 1950
- Frosty the Snowman, 1950
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