When baseball’s American League expanded from eight to 10 teams for the 1961 season, all I knew of Gene Autry was that he was the guy who owned the team initially called the Los Angeles Angels, later referred to, when it moved to suburban Anaheim in 1966, as the California Angels, then the Anaheim Angels. (The other team was the new Washington Senators, after the old team became the Minnesota Twins.)
But then I discovered this was the same fellow who performed not one, but three Christmas classics. Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane) was written by Autry, with music composed by Oakley Haldeman. It got to #9 on the pop charts in 1947 and to #5 early in 1948 on the country charts, then to #4 country later that year.
The song was covered by several artists, notably Doris Day (1949), Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (1950), Elvis Presley (1957), and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans (1963), the latter for that famous Phil Spector Christmas album.
The first cowboy singing star of the movies – I’ve never seen any of his films! – had his biggest hit with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, performed with the Pinafores, which was #1 for eight weeks on a special kid’s music chart in 1949, and also hit #1 on the pop and country chart that year. It recharted for another three years, and again after Gene Autry died in 1998.
The final Christmas hit was Frosty the Snow Man, performed with the Cass County Boys. it got to #4 country and #7 pop in 1950, and #2 on the kids chart the following year. His success with just these three songs put him at #2 on the chart of the most successful Christmas singles artists, behind only Bing Crosby, at least through 2004.
He was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame, mostly for his non-Christmas music.
Listen to songs by Gene Autry: