Ray Whitley

Induction Year: 1981

Birth Name: Raymond Otis Whitley

Birth Date: 12-05-1901

Place of Birth: Atlanta, Georgia

Death Date: 02-21-1979

Place of Death: Mexico

One night in 1938, Ray Whitley was awakened in the wee hours by the telephone. He took the call, then came back to the bedroom and said to his wife, "Well, it looks like I'm back in the saddle again," explaining that RKO Studios wanted a new Western song for a motion picture. His wife recognized a good title, and Whitley scratched out the first verse for the song that ensured his legacy as a singing cowboy.

Whitley's long, winding trail to the celluloid range began in Atlanta, where he grew up on a farm. As a boy, he learned to ride a horse, play guitar and handle a bullwhip. Unlike many other movie cowboys, Whitley could actually walk the walk. So adept was he with a whip that he could remove a cigarette from a man's lips with a single flick.

After a stint in the Navy, Whitley ended up in New York City in the late 1920s, where he worked construction on the George Washington Bridge and the Empire State Building. At the same time, he and his band, the Range Ramblers, were performing in clubs and on radio shows. With the renamed group the Six Bar Cowboys, Whitley recorded sides for the Decca and Okeh labels, while traveling the rodeo circuit.

Hollywood beckoned in the mid-1930s. Over the course of two decades and 50-odd pictures, Whitley rode, sang and yodeled alongside stars Tim Holt, Rod Cameron and Gene Autry (with whom he also wrote such classics as "Ages and Ages Ago" and "I Hang My Head and Cry"). Whitley's last big screen appearance, in 1956, found him co-starring with James Dean in Giant. In the late '50s, Whitley made several guest appearances on Roy Rogers' TV specials.

Beyond his singing career, Whitley managed the Western group the Sons of the Pioneers for a time. He also played a key role in the history of Gibson guitars, when in 1937 he helped design their SJ-200, a jumbo-bodied acoustic model that became a favorite of cowboy singers and country stars for years to come (Whitley's original prototype guitar is now on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame).

Later in life, Whitley appeared at film conventions and rodeos, always quick to sing "Back in the Saddle Again," or demonstrate his skill with a bullwhip. He died on a fishing trip in Mexico in 1979.

"Ages and Ages Ago"

(written with Gene Autry, Fred Rose)

Ray Whitley1952 
Sonny James1957 
Don Gibson1959 
Jan Howard1962 
Conway Twitty1969 

"Back in the Saddle Again"

(written with Gene Autry)

Ray Whitley1938 
Gene Autry1939 
Floyd Cramer1963 
Sonny James1976 #14 country
Waylon Jennings1976 
Moe Bandy1982 
Riders in the Sky1982 
Charlie Daniels1997 

"Echo Singing in the Wild Wind"

(written with Fred Rose)

Ray Whitley1941 

"I Hang My Head and Cry"

(written with Gene Autry, Fred Rose)

Gene Autry1944 #4 country
Marty Robbins1957 
Les Paul & Mary Ford1962 
Arthur Alexander1962 
Glen Campbell1963 

"I Wonder Who We Think We're Foolin'"

(written with Fred Rose)

Red Kirk & Judy Perkins1949 

"I've Lived a Lifetime for You"

(written with Elmer Newman)

Steve Gibson & the Red Caps1947 

"If You Want the Rainbow, You've Gotta Have the Rain"

(written with Fred Rose)

Oklahoma Wranglers1952 

"Let Me Ride Down in Rocky Canyon"

Ray Whitley1940 

"Lonely River"

(written with Gene Autry, Fred Rose)

Gene Autry1941 

"There's Mist Around the Prairie Moon"

(written with Fred Rose)

The Six Bar Cowboys1949 

Ray Whitley

Induction Year: 1981