Cowboy Music: Rex Allen
Singer and movie star Rex Allen brought pioneer sensibility to Hollywood. Allen gained fame as the Arizona Cowboy (the title of his first film) for his roles in 19 western movies released by Republic Pictures between 1950 and 1954. In a white Stetson hat, he, his beloved horse Koko, and a series of sidekicks shielded ranchers, orphans, and other unfortunates from greedy and scurrilous villains. The ‘Arizona Cowboy’ quickly became one of the top-ten box office draws of the day and a popular comic book character.
Born on a homestead 40 miles north of Willcox on December 31, 1920, Rex Allen was a true cowboy. He began playing guitar at 11 to support his father’s musical performances, later singing on his own in local venues. After graduating high school, he spent a short time on the Phoenix radio station KOY before he left home to ride on the rodeo circuit. An injury cut his rodeo career short, and he started singing on WTTM Radio in Trenton, New Jersey in 1943. He then joined the WLS-AM program National Barn Dance in Chicago, which led to a singing contract with Mercury Records. His first hit, the 1949 single “Afraid,” propelled him into cinema for his short but fruitful career making movies.
After the Silver Screen
Allen rode in to Hollywood at the end of the era of singing western films, and he is considered the last of the “singing cowboys.” But the smooth, expressive voice that brought Allen cinematic success also gained fame as a recording artist and narrator. After his stint on the silver screen, he starred in the television program, “Frontier Doctor,” aired between 1955-1956. He recorded original songs during and after his movie career. The 1953 release “Crying in the Chapel” became his biggest hit until “Don’t Go Near the Indians,” a ballad of a man who falls in love with a beautiful Indian maiden, made it into the Billboard Country Top Five in 1962.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Allen focused on his development as a film narrator and character actor. He earned the title “the Voice of the West” for his narration of many Walt Disney World of Color nature shows. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Allen recorded numerous advertising tracks, including famous campaigns for Purina Dog Chow and Ford. He wrote and sang the theme song for the sitcom “Best of the West.” He narrates the 1973 Hanna-Barbera classic movie, “Charlotte’s Web.”
Allen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1983 was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame. He was the first to receive both the Rodeo Man of the Year and the Golden Boot award. In the 1980s, Allen’s son, Rex Allen, Jr, achieved his own country stardom.
Remembering Rex Allen
The Arizona Cowboy Museum and Rex Allen Hall of Fame opened in Willcox in 1989 to honor its hometown hero. Memorabilia from his careers in rodeo, radio, movies, and television fills the space in Historic Downtown Willcox, and a larger-than life statue stands across the street in Railroad Park. Allen’s horse, Koko, is buried at the foot of the statue, and Allen’s ashes were scattered at that location after his death in Tucson in 1999, two weeks before his 79th birthday.
Celebrate the memory of Rex Allen during Rex Allen days, a festival featuring rodeos, concerts, and parades held annually in Willcox in early October. Read more about Rex Allen Days.