Gene Autry
The Singing Cowboy

If you grew up in the 1930s, you will remember the Saturday afternoon movies always featured a cowboy riding down a dusty trail singing a song to his horse. Or there would be several cowboys all sitting around the chuck wagon at night, looking up at the stars, and singing about how lonesome they were out on the range. My early heroes were those gun toting cowboys with white hats who never shot first and who always helped people in distress. If my hero would sing, that was an extra bonus at the movies.
First there was John Wayne who couldn’t carry a tune. But we kids didn’t know that his singing voice was dubbed. We just knew that he could shot straight and he never kissed a girl. The story goes that John was cast as “Singing Sandy” for several years until one day in 1935 he said to the producers at Republic Pictures, “Git yourself another singing cowboy.” It seems that during personal appearances he often found himself backed into a corner by fans shouting to him to sing a song.
About this time the people at Republic heard of a young fellow out in Oklahoma who was selling zillions of records through the Sears and Roebuck catalog. His name was Gene Autry. Gene was given a chance to warble a couple of tunes in the 1934 western called “On Old Santa Fe.” Everyone loved his singing, but there was one problem and the problem was that Autry couldn’t act any better than John Wayne could sing. Autry was given a few acting lessons and was signed to a movie contract. His first exposure was an appearance in the 1935 science fiction Western serial called the “The Phantom Empire.” By 1937 Gene Autry was voted the Number 1 Western Star and the fourth biggest box office attraction behind Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, and Spencer Tracy. Autry remained in first or second place among cowboy stars until he retired in motion pictures in 1953. His biggest competition was Roy Rogers.
There were other singing cowboys. Tex Ritter made some films for Columbia, but his prominence as a singer had to wait for his off-key rendition of the title song of “High Noon” in 1952. Jimmy Wakely was Autry’s protégé, joining Gene’s weekly radio show, “Melody Ranch,” over CBS Network. Wakely went on to make over 30 singing westerns. Rex Allen had the dubious distinction of being the last of the singing cowboys. In the early 1950s, old westerns were being shown on television. Why should the public pay at the theater to see what they could watch for free on television?
There was a great deal of difference between the western movies of the 1930s and the musical western of the 40s and 50s. Horses, stagecoaches, board-towns, outlaw gangs and other trappings of the old west were shamelessly combined with automobiles, buses, telephones, electricity, radios, and crooked city slickers. But the public loved them and they loved Gene Autry. He made 63 feature films and 635 recordings, more than 300 of which he wrote or co-wrote. Some of his best movies were based on his hit recordings. The lyrics for the title song in the 1947 movie
The Last Round-Up went like this:

I’m heading for the last roundup
Gonna saddle old Paint for the last time and ride
So long, old pal, it’s time your tears were dried
I’m heading for the last roundup.

Git along little doggie, git along, git along (Repeated 4 times)

I’m heading for the last roundup I’m heading for the last roundup
To the far away ranch of the Boss in the sky There’ll be Buffalo Bill with his long snow white hair
Where the strays are counted and branded there go I There’ll be old kit Carson and Custer waiting there
I’m heading for the last roundup….Chorus A-riding in the last roundup…..Chorus

If you were born before 1930, join me now in singing this song.