September 08, 2019

From Cattle Drives to the Silver Screen: The Mythology of The Singing Cowboy (via PBS SoCal)

Excerpted from my article for PBS SoCal, 

For lots of people, the nickname “The Singing Cowboy” conjures memories of and nostalgia for Gene Autry.

But while Autry left an indelible mark on SoCal with his film career (and patronage of L.A.’s Autry Museum of the American West), this second-generation Texan wasn’t the only celluloid cowboy of song.

Nor was he the first....

....And Hollywood screenwriters and composers didn’t invent the singing cowboy archetype out of nowhere, either.

Unknown to many, real-life cowboys on cattle drives from Texas into western states actually sang from the 1870s to the 1890s.

Not only that — but they had to sing.

According to pioneering musicologist and folklorist John A. Lomax, if a cowboy couldn’t sing back then, he wouldn’t get hired in the first place. Those who led the drives wanted melodies that would be ideal to ride by (and would lull the cattle to sleep at night)....

....These cowboys rode along the Utah, Navajo and Santa Fe Trails of the Great Western Cattle Trail “with a song on their lips,” and they gave voice to “the freedom and the wildness of the plains.”

To read the rest of the article, visit the PBS SoCal website here

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