AS HOLLYWOOD phenomena go, the singing cowboys was a comparatively short-lived one; they made their first appearance a few years after the advent of talkies and had all but disappeared two decades later.
Cowboy songs had been a sheet-music staple since the turn of the century and in 1925 a genuine Texas cowboy, Carl T. Sprague, enjoyed sales of nearly a million copies with his "When the Work's All Done This Fall", but it was the movies that would most successfully bring together music and the Old West.
John Wayne is usually cited as the first on-screen singing cowboy, struggling to bring to life the character of Singin' Sandy in Riders of Destiny (1933) and setting the basic premiss for each of the musical horse operas that were to follow: white-stetsoned good guy rides into town, overcomes adversity and resident bad guy whilst carrying a tune and winning the girl.
By the decade's end, Wayne had been succeeded by a string of others, two of whom, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, proved amongst the biggest box- office draws of the era. If Eddie Dean never quite made it into that league, he can lay claim to having been the finest vocalist in the genre, a talent that gained him the nickname "The Golden Voice".
He was born Edgar Dean Glosup, the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son, in Posey, Texas. His schoolteacher father instilled in him a love of singing and he began his career performing gospel music, first with the Vaughan and then the Stamps Quartets. He eventually joined his brother Jimmy in Chicago, where they worked as a duet team on the famous WLS National Barn Dance before moving on to station WNAX which broadcast out of Yankton, South Dakota.
In 1934 and 1935 they cut a series of duets for ARC and Decca, though none were particularly successful. A return to Chicago saw the pair get involved in radio soap opera until, in 1937, they headed south-west to California. Supporting roles in the films of both Ken Maynard and Gene Autry quickly followed, as did radio work with the hillbilly comedienne Judy Canova.
From 1946, Dean received top billing on a series of some 20 low-budget films made for the PRC studio, starting with The Harmony Trail. Showcases for Bill Crespinel's new colour film process, Cinecolor, they were among the first colour movies of their type. Starring alongside leading ladies like Shirley Patterson and Jennifer Holt, Dean both wrote and performed the numbers featured in these largely forgotten pictures. They included Colorado Serenade and The Caravan Trail (both 1946), West To Glory (1947) and The Hawk of Powder River (1948). He often found himself accompanied by the western harmony group Andy Parker and the Plainsmen.
In 1948, the year of his last PRC film, Dean enjoyed his greatest success as a songwriter when his fellow singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely took "One Has My Name, the Other Has My Heart" to the top of both the pop and country charts. Co-written by Dean with his wife, "Dearest", and a fellow tunesmith, Hal Blair, it proved an early and durable example of the "cheatin' " song and was covered magnificently by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1969.
Over the years Dean recorded for a number of record labels including Decca, Majestic, Mercury, Crystal, Sage and Sand, Shasta (owned by Jimmy Wakely) and Capitol. If few of his own recordings charted, the superb "On the Banks of the Sunny San Juan" (1941) and his "I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven" (1955) remain classics.
Dean later became a mainstay of the western festivals that proliferate throughout the south-western United States and in 1993 was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame, his voice still a reportedly rich and supple instrument into its ninth decade.
Edgar Dean Glosup (Eddie Dean), singer, songwriter, actor: born Posey, Texas 9 July 1907; married 1931 Lorene Donnelly (one son, one daughter); died Newhall, California 4 March 1999.
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