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Gene Autry Biography

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Gene Autry

Gene Autry - 'The Essential Gene Autry'

Image courtesy of Sony Music Distribution

Basic Facts:

Orvon Grover Autry was born on September 29, 1907, in Tioga, Texas. He died October 2, 1998, in Studio City, California; he was 91 years old.

Early Years:

Gene Autry expressed his first interest in music on a $12 Sears guitar. When his family moved from Texas to Oklahoma, Autry worked as a telegraph operator for the St. Louis & Frisco railroad. Wanting to put his voice on wax, Autry left his job to audition for record companies in New York City. He didn't land a contract, but when he returned home he was a little wiser about what it would take to become a successful performer.

Autry's Big Break:

Back in Tulsa, the young singer performed Jimmie Rodgers standards for KVOO radio. The more experienced Autry returned to New York City in late 1929, and recorded sides for multiple labels. Autry's first hit was "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine." That success landed him a regular slot on Chicago radio's WLS with his own program, Conqueror Record Time.

A Singing Cowboy is Born:

Autry began toying with Western-themed tunes in 1933. They became an indelible part of his image with the popularity of the songs "Cowboy's Heaven" and "The Last Roundup." And his first movie role in 1934's In Old Santa Fe. That led to a long relationship with Republic Pictures, and inexhaustible stream of cowboy pictures that made Autry one of the biggest Western stars in Hollywood.

Hero for Troubled Times:

By the time Autry became a star, America was deep in the Great Depression. His romantic ballads of riding the high plains, accountable to no one but himself, struck a chord with audiences yearning for a simpler era. His clean-cut cowboys on the silver screen appealed to the same desires. Before riding into the sunset, Autry's sagebrush troubadours had walloped the outlaws, kissed the girl, and delighted the audience with a few songs sung in his steady baritone.

The Post-War Period:

World War II delivered America from the Depression, but Gene Autry remained one of Hollywood's most popular stars. His musical career remained stronger still, thanks to a series of popular Christmas recordings: "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Frosty the Snowman." These successes helped the country singer sell over a million records in the post-war decades.

In 1950, Gene Autry made the move to television with The Gene Autry Show, which ran until 1956.

Gene Autry Trivia Facts:

  • In 1937, movie theater owners voted Autry as the top box-office draw for Westerns.
  • Champion was the name of Autry's favorite movie horse.
  • In 1960, Autry became a baseball team owner when he purchased the Los Angeles Angels.
  • Autry was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969.

Key Gene Autry Songs:

Recommended Recordings:

  • Essential Gene Autry, 1933-1946 (1992, Columbia Records): This greatest hits collection focuses on Autry during his cowboy country heyday. The 18-track set also includes the unreleased song "Ole Faithful."

The Gene Autry Cowboy Code:

For his CBS radio program Gene Autry's Melody Ranch (1940-1956), Autry created a cowboy code to guide his young listeners in their day-to-day lives. It was later published in several magazines, including Life. The cowboy's 10 commandments are as follows:

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

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