Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy

Article excerpt

Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy, by Peter Stanfield.

"Dust, dust, dust in the skies, dust on the trail, dust in my eyes / Dust, dust, can't see the sun, can't find my way, the dust has won." Leonard Slye, a former member for the cowboy singing group Sons of the Pioneers and better known to millions of Americans as Roy Rogers, sang these foreboding lyrics in his film debut, Under Western Stars (Republic, 1938). Far from an obscure saddle tune from another "horse opera," Johnny Marvin's song "Dust" was nominated for a best song Academy Award and was a hit record for both Gene Autry and Rogers. In the 1930's the singing cowboy of film and song appealed to a broad audience, as media studies scholar Peter Stanfield demonstrates in his study of this phenomenon and its cultural antecedents. With a past firmly rooted in the performance tradition of American blackface minstrelsy, cowboy music successfully mediated between the old and the new, dominating rural music from the early 1930's to the late 1940's. Although the era of the singing Western film lasted a little more than two decades-from the mid-1930's to the mid-- 1950's-the genre's working-class conscious and focus on issues of labor, capital, and new technology appealed to large numbers of rural and urban filmgoers during the Great Depression era. …

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