They were strictly a Hollywood creation-it’s hard to play guitar while riding a horse — but singing cowboys had young people yodeling tunes half a century before the Country for Kids CD. Here’s how some of celluloid’s crooning cowpokes have fared along life’s happy trails:
Gene Autry: The very prototype of the singing cowboy, Autry starred in some 90 films from ’34 to ’53. Of course, he made his real fortune in oil, broadcasting, and baseball, as owner of the California Angels. Now 84, he sometimes hangs his Stetson at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.
Roy Rogers: As the star of 91 films and a TV series with his wife, songwriter Dale Evans (who is recovering from a recent heart attack), the two-fisted Rogers became Autry’s only true rival. Last year ”the King of the Cowboys” recorded a duet album with Nashville’s hippest stars, including Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, K.T. Oslin, and Randy Travis. But at 80, he’s still better known for having his famous steed, Trigger, stuffed and for lending his name to a chain of fast-food restaurants.
Herb Jeffries: The screen’s first black singing cowboy, Jeffries, known as ”the Bronze Buckaroo” (and using his real name, Herbert Jeffrey) made five ”dark Westerns” with ”all-colored casts” before joining the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the ’40s. Now 80 and still singing, he recently finished an Ellington tribute tour.
Eddie Dean: The hero of scores of B Westerns, Dean parlayed his movie fame into a recording career (the 1955 novelty hit ”I Dreamed of Hill-Billy Heaven”) when the public tired of cowboy flicks. At 84, he still does occasional club dates.
Rex Allen: A quintessential Good Guy of the second-feature Westerns of the ’40s and ’50s, Allen, ”the Arizona Cowboy,” was the last of the screen’s singing cowboys. At 67, he does voices for Disney films (more than 80 to date).