Born near Tioga, Texas, on September 29, 1907, GENE AUTRY was raised in Texas and Oklahoma. His first success was as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy" on KVOO, which led to a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1929. Soon after, Autry performed on the WLS "National Barn Dance" in Chicago. He first appeared on screen in 1934, and up to 1953 popularized the musical Western and starred in 93 feature films. In 1940 theater exhibitors of America voted Autry the fourth biggest box office attraction, behind Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, and Spencer Tracy.
Autry made over 600 recordings, including more than 300 songs written or co-written by him. His Christmas records Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are among his platinum recordings and remain perennial favorites.
From 1940 to 1956 Autry was heard weekly on the CBS Radio Network with his Melody Ranch radio show. In addition, his popularity was apparent during his personal appearance tours. He was the first performer to sell out Madison Square Garden, and his concert and rodeo appearances throughout the United States and Europe are legendary and served as a model for other performers.
Entertainer Gene Autry joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and became Sgt. Gene Autry. During the war, he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms in the China-India-Burma theater of war and flew over the Himalayas, the hazardous air route known as "The Hump." After the war, Autry was reassigned to Special Services, where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific before resuming his movie career in 1946.
In 1950, Autry became the first major movie star to use the television medium and for the next five years he produced and starred in 91 half-hour episodes of The Gene Autry Show for CBS Television. This success led him to produce the popular TV series Annie Oakley, The Range Rider, Buffalo Bill Jr., The Adventures Of Champion, and the first 39 episodes of Death Valley Days.
He carried his love for entertaining and sharp business sense into broadcasting, where, under the Golden West Broadcasters banner, he owned such award-winning stations as KMPC radio and KTLA television in Los Angeles, as well as other stations across the country. Autry's great love for baseball prompted him to acquire the American League California Angels in 1961. Additionally, Autry held the title of Vice President of the American League until his death.
In November 1988, Autry's long-cherished dream came true with the opening of the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, now expanded and renamed the Autry National Center.
Autry is the only entertainer to have five stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, one each for radio, records, movies, television, and live performance including rodeo and theater appearances. He was a 33rd Degree Mason and Honorary Inspector General and was given the prestigious award of the Grand Cross of the Court of Honor. Among the many hundreds of honors and awards Autry received were inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Guild Life Achievement Award. He was also honored by his songwriting peers with a lifetime achievement award from ASCAP.
Gene Autry died at his home in Studio City, California on October 2, 1998. He was 91 years old.