100 Greatest Men: #35. Gene Autry

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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 online pharmacy no prescription 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.

Essential Singles:

  • 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

Next: #34. Charlie Rich

Previous: #36. Ricky Skaggs

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. Good article. The Will Rogers story was new to me. Other than the Christmas songs you mentioned, I haven’t heard any Gene Autry music in over 50 years. I watched his tv show as a kid along with a lot of other cowboy shows. Makes me wonder now if Roy Rogers is covered by your Sons of the Pioneers article or given separate consideration.

    I listened to the Dear John Letter song, “At Mail Call Today” on you-tube. Gene’s delivery didn’t exactly convey much dismay at receiving the news but it was interesting to hear.

  2. I might also add that, besides his own TV show, Autry actually owned an honest-to-goodness TV station as well: KTLA, here in Los Angeles. Talk about a renaissance man.

  3. In his time Gene Autry was hugely popular, probably more popular than any country star before or since since he was a huge hit maker in music and a top movie box office draw

    It is always difficult to evaluate persons outside the county music mainstream and today cowboy music is definitely a sidebar, but in the 1940s Gene was the mainstream

    Kevin forgot to mention that at the beginning of his career Gene was a Jimmie Rodgers acolyte – there exist recordings from the 1930s where you will need to listen very closely to be sure that you aren’t listening to the old Blue Yodeler

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