CAIRO – 30 September 2017: September 29 marks the birthday of singer Gene Autry, famous for being “America’s favorite singing cowboy.”
Born in Texas in 1907, Autry learned the meaning of a simple life after his family moved to a ranch in Oklahoma, where he taught himself the guitar. Previously singing for a church choir, Autry found himself entranced by a new style of music at the time, which combined southern hymns with Texas’ traditional cowboy music, leading to what we know now as “country music.”
By the 1920s, Autry had been working as a telegrapher when, after playing some music for a customer, he was told he had potential and should look for work in the radio. That customer was the actor Will Rogers, who helped propel Autry to the future path of fame as “America’s favorite cowboy.”
A year later, Autry journeyed to New York City and began singing for the radio. His first song, “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” was one he wrote himself, which also became his first hit.
Autry had secured himself a spot on the National Barn Dance and married Ina Mae Spivey. By the 1930s, Autry was well on his way to Hollywood, beginning a career as an actor that would ensure he was a household name.
His big break in acting came in 1935, when he starred in “The Phantom Empire,” which proved to be a huge blockbuster success at the time. With this boost to his career, Autry was able to find more work in cinema. His next movie was “Tumbleweeds” of the same year, which was the first movie to focus around a singing cowboy, effectively starting a whole new genre: the musical western. After taking a break from music to fight in WWII as a pilot, Autry returned with a bang, his 1949 song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” topping the musical charts with holiday cheer.
From 1950 until 1955, Autry even had his own TV program, the “Gene Autry Show,” which featured him traveling from town to town, dealing justice to villains. It had six successful seasons by the time its run ended — and, by the 1960s, Autry hung up his acting hat, winding down to deal in the real estate business and his media empire.
In 1988, he opened up the Autry Museum of Western Heritage (now the Autry National Center of the American West), dedicated to preserving America’s history. The museum features numerous items from Autry’s private collection.
Autry died on October 2, 1998, at the ripe age of 91. He held five stars at the Hollywood Walk of Fame to honor his vast body of work and two Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.