It’s probably a minor point, but there’s a small inaccuracy in the sub-title of this CD. The so-called “operatic” cowboys did play a role in launching the genre of the musical B-Western, but the genre didn’t really take shape until the mid-1930’s. In 1928, Warner Baxter, as the Cisco Kid, became the first cowboy star to sing on screen (singing “My Tonia” in In Old Arizona), but you could see cowboys singing earlier, in the first silent films. Ken Maynard loved music and tried to pick & sing, but his voice was so rustic and hard to listen to, it didn’t have wide appeal. So the musical Western, as a genre, didn’t come along until 1935 when Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire serial introduced a plot that revolved around music, or, perhaps more accurately, the musical sub-plot balanced the film’s action. That characteristic carried over to Autry’s first feature-length film as a star, a few months later.
Douglas Green describes Autry’s voice as having a “sun-baked” quality, but several of Autry’s earliest competitors, e.g. Dick Foran and Fred Scott, had trained voices, thus the title, “operatic cowboys.” In the context of the music of the day, an “operatic” cowboy was not seen as odd, at least by the film industry. In fact, Dick Foran almost became the silver screen’s first full-fledged singing cowboy! The release of his film, Moonlight on the Prairie, by Warner Bros. on Nov. 1st, 1935, came only a few weeks after Gene Autry’s Republic feature, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, came out in Sept of that year, making Autry’s the first musical B-Western feature film.