Christmas With Gene Autry By David Swanzy

December 22, 2016 - While working at the University of Texas at Tyler for the past six months, I have grown fond of eating my lunch at Burger Grind (about a mile from campus). As a matter of fact, being a regular customer there has been rewarding. Not only do I think they make the best hamburgers in Tyler, they know me so well that they always turn in my order before I have fully entered the restaurant. That has only happened to me at one other place—Margaritas in Center, where a mushroom-and-onion quesadilla is always my favorite. There, unfortunately, they once anticipated my order on the very evening that I had decided to try something different!

Lately, during the Christmas season, I enjoy the Christmas music being played at Burger Grind, with the likes of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Theresa Brewer, and Gene Autry. It does date me to know and like their music, and with each generation comes more and different Christmas music to add to the mix. There are some singers, such as these, who seem timeless, and many of us enjoy their songs even years after their death. Such is the nature of music.

To pursue this thought a bit further with one singer, Gene Autry as an example, let me explore his life in more detail. Gene Autry was born in 1907 and, without doubt, his fame began (and continued for a long time) as a cowboy star in motion pictures. For those who like detail, this “first professional life” in his admirable career lasted from 1934 to 1953.

I remember Saturday morning movies with him and other equally famous characters as the stars we all enjoyed. What made it even better with Gene as well as with Roy Rogers, they were “singing” cowboys, and the plots they staged were designed to be attention-grabbing action; then, almost without warning, time actually stood still as they sang their song of the day. Of course, these songs were there for more than one purpose; almost for sure the song was also recorded for sale in a market that was growing exponentially. Because of this and because popular sound recordings were beginning to be separated into genres, Gene Autry became one of the most important figures in the early history of “Country and Western Music” (now called simply “Country Music”).  So, this was what the first generation of Autry admirers knew of him; I was in that crowd.

The next generation of Autry admirers knew about his cowboy movies because of their rebirth (usually unedited) on TV. But they also got to know him in another way. That is, he bought and owned the LosAngeles/California/Anaheim Angels major league baseball team from 1961-1997. His transition from professional lives “One” to “Two” (this one) was his ownership of a television station and several radio stations in Southern California.

Today’s generation of Autry admirers/listeners (his “third professional life”), while some still remember him as a baseball franchise owner, is almost solely limited to his Christmas songs, and although he died in 1998, he is still heard today singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" (singer and composer), "Frosty the Snowman", and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". So, Autry’s music lives on during the season of Christmas, making that “third professional life” really one in perpetuity. To our benefit, musical greats such as Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and, yes, Gene Autry have a timeless life of their own that we continue to enjoy long after they are gone.