Singer/songwriter Ray Whitley was one of Hollywood's first cowboy crooners. Unlike Gene Autry, he remained a supporting actor and never starred in his own series of feature films, although he did make many musical film shorts during the mid-'30s. In tandem with Fred Rose, he also co-penned some of Autry's best-loved songs, including "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Ages and Ages Ago." Whitley, born in Atlanta, initially played music only occasionally at community gatherings until discovering Jimmie Rodgers in the late '20s. He finally turned to professional performance when the Depression forced him into prolonged unemployment; his first gigs were with the Range Ramblers, later renamed the Six Bar Cowboys, who played the World Championship Rodeo up through the 1960s.
Ray Whitley made his recording debut in 1933, and finally came to Hollywood in 1936, where he made his feature film debut co-starring with William Boyd in Hopalong Cassidy Returns. Between 1938 and 1942, he made a series of short films for RKO, and also played the sidekick in a few Tim Holt films. His final film appearance came in 1956, playing the ranch manager in the James Dean classic Giant. During the 1950s, he briefly managed the Sons of the Pioneers and Jimmy Wakely. Whitley recorded through the late '70s and was a popular performer at cowboy film festivals, where he sang and demonstrated his considerable prowess with a bullwhip. He died in 1979 on a fishing trip to Mexico. ~ Sandra Brennan