Dave McEnery was born on 15 December, 1914, in San Antonio, Texas. He enjoyed singing Red River Valley when he was at high-school, and this earned him the nickname, Red River Dave. As a young man, he became a yodelling cowboy and a lasso twirler at rodeos. His big break, however, came in 1939, when he took part in a television broadcast from the New York World's fair, singing one of his self-penned musical chronicles, Amelia Earhart's Last Flight. During the 1940s his height and good looks helped him to play the part of a singing cowboy in a number of Hollywood films.
Red River Dave might be known as a Country singer, but he was really much more than that. He was a folk singer in the true tale-telling folk-singing tradition. Many of his songs were narratives of current events, told in the Country fashion that was natural to him.
The 1950s saw him commenting musically more and more on the news events of the day, with stand-outs being The Ballad of Emmett Till, released in early 1956 on TNT 9005 and telling of the brutal murder of a young black boy in 1954, The Ballad of Marilyn Monroe, and The Flight of Apollo Eleven, though this is but a small selection.
Red River Dave at the New York World's Fair, 1939 (Bill Benner, fiddle, Roy Horton, Bass).
Tony Russell (The Guardian) * Thursday 21 March 2002:
Country music had no more indefatigable chronicler of current affairs than Red River Dave McEnery, who has died aged 87. He versified world news, whether headline stories or column-fillers, from the Ballad Of Patty Hearst to the Night That Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus. He was also fast; he once wrote 52 songs in 12 hours while handcuffed to a piano. Some of his compositions faded. Perhaps only devotees remember The Clinging Lovers Of Kenya, based on the report of a couple who could not be freed from a sexual embrace, but in Amelia Earhart's Last Flight, a tale of the aviatrix who disappeared in 1937, he dug a small nugget from country's golden vein of tragedy songs, and the piece is on its way to becoming a country standard.
After rope-spinning on the rodeo circuit, McEnery became a cowboy singer and yodeller on the radio, taking his professional name from one of his favourite songs, Red River Valley. At the 1939 New York World's Fair he took part in an experimental television broadcast, possibly the first to feature a country singer. In those patriotic times he also composed I'd Like To Give My Dog To Uncle Sam.
In the 1940s he was heard on Mexican border radio stations and later on WOAI in his home town of San Antonio. Tall and personable, he joined the Hollywood posse of singing cowboys, appearing in Swing In The Saddle (1948), Echo Ranch (1949) and numerous short features.
Responding to Wink Martindale's Deck Of Cards and to McCarthyism, he wrote the Red Deck Of Cards, in which a prisoner-of-war freed from North Korea relates how his captors used cards to inculcate communism. "They told us that the ace meant that there is the one god, the State, and the deuce meant that there were two great leaders, Lenin and Stalin." But he also wrote and recorded the Ballad Of Emmett Till, the true story of a black man lynched in Mississippi.
In the late 1960s he concentrated on his real estate interests, but within a few years he was back, based in Nashville and looking remarkably like Buffalo Bill, with his long white hair, moustache and beard. He wrote and recorded, often on his own label, Reveal, pieces such as The Ballad Of Marilyn Monroe and The Flight Of Apollo 11, as well as compositions about the Jonestown massacre and the Iranian hostage crisis.
He is survived by his companion, Virginia Gottwald.
"Red River" Dave McEnery, singer and songwriter, born December 15 1914; died January 15 2002.
RED RIVER DAVE in "Oldies But Goldies"-blog.