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Gene Autry

The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, was one of the most popular American entertainers for over thirty years. Autry was born in 1907 in Texas and his family relocated to Oklahoma in the early 1920s, where he worked on the family ranch before becoming a telegraph operator. Working for the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway, Autry honed his guitar and singing skills while bored at work as a way to pass the time. He traveled to New York in 1928 to audition for Victor, but was unsuccessful because the label had recently signed two other singing cowboy acts. He was signed to Columbia the following year and began performing on Chicago’s National Barn Dance radio show. Autry played in many styles and, in the early 1930s, made his mark as a hillbilly singer when “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” became his first hit. Autry made his film debut in 1934’s In Old Santa Fe, where he played a member of a singing group. By 1942, Autry had become the nation’s top cowboy performer until Air Force service during World War II led to the spot being taken by Roy Rogers. He formed a film production company in 1951 and bought the Monogram Movie Ranch, which he renamed the Melody Ranch, in 1953. From 1940 through 1956, Autry hosted the weekly Melody Ranch radio show on CBS, where he developed and spread the Cowboy Code. He retired from entertainment in 1964 and focused his efforts on business ventures and preserving the Western culture he had helped to enshrine in the American imagination. In 1988 he founded the Museum of Western Heritage, now the Autry Museum of the American West, in Los Angeles. He invested in radio and television stations, sports teams, and his own rodeo until his death in 1998.