skip navigation
Singing Cowboys - Star of the Month
Remind Me

Singing Cowboys
26 Films, Fridays in July

Let's face it: those enduring cowboys and riders of the purple sage who've kept moviegoers enthralled since the time of The Great Train Robbery back in 1903 -- the John Waynes, Randy Scotts, Gary Coopers and Jimmy Stewarts -- for the most part have received wagonloads of attention for their work in Westerns, never more than in recent times when books and essays have been penned extolling the virtues of high-grade oaters and such actor-director Western combos as the two Johns (Ford and Wayne), Stewart with Anthony Mann and Scott with Budd Boetticher. But forgotten in the mix has been the "singing cowboy," the Gene Autry-Roy Rogers type of cowpoke who was not only a whiz at ridin,' shootin,' rescuin' and fistfightin' but also able to stop between the gallops long enough to grab a guitar, lean against a tree and sing about "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" (an Autry reliable) or warn "Don't Fence Me In" (a Rogers favorite).

Some of the small fries in the audience may have preferred less music and more roughhousing; some cowboys also rebelled. John Wayne once said the most personally embarrassing thing to him in his career happened in 1933 when Monogram Studios insisted he sit by a tree, move his lips and pretend to sing while a real warbler named Bill Bradbury hid behind the tree and did the actual crooning. (The film was the long-forgotten Riders of Destiny.) Many audiences, however, found the whole idea refreshingly pleasant, and once cowboy crooners arrived in movieland full-tilt, they dug in their boots and didn't leave for 20 years, eventually vamoosing to television. Flash ahead to 2011: that entire genre has not only disappeared but has basically been forgotten. But not here on TCM.

In honor of Roy Rogers in the 100th anniversary year of his birth, and also to salute all those dozens of other movie heroes of the Old West who were comfortable with a six-shooter in one hand and a guitar in the other, every Friday this month we'll be honoring the entire fraternity. Throughout July, instead of putting our TCM spotlight on a single star, we'll be shining it on nine "singing cowboys," beginning July 1 with five movies starring Rogers (first up: 1944's Cowboy and the Senorita, Roy's first film with future wife Dale Evans), later focusing on Autry, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Wakely, Dick Foran, Monte Hale and Herb Jeffries, who in the 1950s became a top-selling recording star after having been the first African American "singing cowboy" in a series of so-called "race movies" specifically made in the 1930s and 1940s for black audiences in black neighborhoods in that segregated time.

We'll also have films with Ken Maynard, who in 1930 became the first Western actor to actually sing in a Western movie. Also Rex Allen, the man considered the last of the genre; he signed off on his big screen career in the mid 1950s. So every Friday this month, we invite you to take off them boots, sit back and enjoy a look to the past and a vanishing breed of movie and movie hero -- fellows with honor, integrity, saddle-sores, spurs and songs, and who, true to the code of the West, rarely ever kissed the leading lady. See you at the corral.

by Robert Osborne