The Cowboy in Country Music: Patsy Montana

“I Want to Be a Couboy’s Sweetheart”—the first country or western record by a woman to sell a million copies—was originally recorded in a New York studio on August 16, 1935, by Patsy Montana for the American Recording Company. The producer on the session was the legendary Uncle Art Satherley, who was also guiding the sessions of Gene Autry, who starred in his first feature film that year. The song was an immediate hit and established Patsy Montana in a career during which she that saw her become a member of the Western Music Hall of Fame as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In the years since that song was first heard, it has become a standard in western music and an inspiration for countless women who have sung western music and set out to follow in the bootsteps of Patsy Montana. The bundle of energy who became Patsy Montana was born Ruby Rebecca Blevins on October 30, 1908, in Beaudry, Arkansas. In 1910 the family moved to Jesseville, a few miles from Hot Springs, then Hope, Arkansas, where Patsy grew up the seventh child out of a family of ten—and the only girl. When she was in high school she added an “e” to the end of Ruby because she “thought Rubye looked more sophisticated.” In the late 1920s she discovered the records of Jimmie Rodgers and sang his songs. “His music was so different from anything else I had ever heard,” she said. “He yodeled and I guess that was a big draw for me.



He sang about hard times, railroads and so many things with which I could identify. The sound was rather bluesy, stuff I had heard the black folks singing. At the same time it often sounded all jazzed up,” said Patsy in her autobiography. “I loved my Jimmie Rodgers records, and I memorized every one of them.” She graduated from high school in 1928 and the following year moved to California where her brother lived. Wanting to go to college, she entered the University of the West, which later became UCLA, and studied violin and piano. She was also taught to play the guitar by her brother. In Los Angeles Rubye entered a talent contest where the winner would appear on Breakfast Club on KMTR. She performed two Jimmie Rodgers songs and won the contest. That same year she became a member of the Montana Cowgirls trio, earning $7.50 per show.

Stuart Hamblen, who was on a competing station, offered her a job on his show—the top western radio show in L.A.—playing violin and singing with a girl trio. Since one of the other girl’s names was Ruthie, Hamblen encouraged Rubye to change her name; so she became Patsy Montana. In 1930 the Montana Girls became regulars with Hoot Gibson’s Rodeo and the following year were in the movie Lightnin’ Express. The other two girls got married and quit performing, so Patsy went on alone. She made her first recordings on November 4, 1932, with Jimmie Davis in New York.

“I Want to Be a Couboy’s Sweetheart”—the first country or western record by a woman to sell a million copies—was originally recorded in a New York studio on August 16, 1935, by Patsy Montana for the American Recording Company. The producer on the session was the legendary Uncle Art Satherley, who was also guiding the sessions of Gene Autry, who starred in his first feature film that year. The song was an immediate hit and established Patsy Montana in a career during which she that saw her become a member of the Western Music Hall of Fame as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame.



In the years since that song was first heard, it has become a standard in western music and an inspiration for countless women who have sung western music and set out to follow in the bootsteps of Patsy Montana. The bundle of energy who became Patsy Montana was born Ruby Rebecca Blevins on October 30, 1908, in Beaudry, Arkansas. In 1910 the family moved to Jesseville, a few miles from Hot Springs, then Hope, Arkansas, where Patsy grew up the seventh child out of a family of ten—and the only girl. When she was in high school she added an “e” to the end of Ruby because she “thought Rubye looked more sophisticated.” In the late 1920s she discovered the records of Jimmie Rodgers and sang his songs. “His music was so different from anything else I had ever heard,” she said. “He yodeled and I guess that was a big draw for me.

He sang about hard times, railroads and so many things with which I could identify. The sound was rather bluesy, stuff I had heard the black folks singing. At the same time it often sounded all jazzed up,” said Patsy in her autobiography. “I loved my Jimmie Rodgers records, and I memorized every one of them.” She graduated from high school in 1928 and the following year moved to California where her brother lived. Wanting to go to college, she entered the University of the West, which later became UCLA, and studied violin and piano. She was also taught to play the guitar by her brother. In Los Angeles Rubye entered a talent contest where the winner would appear on Breakfast Club on KMTR. She performed two Jimmie Rodgers songs and won the contest.

That same year she became a member of the Montana Cowgirls trio, earning $7.50 per show. Stuart Hamblen, who was on a competing station, offered her a job on his show—the top western radio show in L.A.—playing violin and singing with a girl trio. Since one of the other girl’s names was Ruthie, Hamblen encouraged Rubye to change her name; so she became Patsy Montana. In 1930 the Montana Girls became regulars with Hoot Gibson’s Rodeo and the following year were in the movie Lightnin’ Express. The other two girls got married and quit performing, so Patsy went on alone. She made her first recordings on November 4, 1932, with Jimmie Davis in New York.



On those sessions with Davis, who later became governor of Louisiana and also penned classics such as “You Are My Sunshine” and “It Makes No Difference Now,” she played the violin, sang harmony and yodeled under the name Rubye Blevins. She recorded four songs with Davis and four songs on her own for Victor. The four songs she recorded on her own were “Montana Plains,” “Sailor’s Sweetheart,” “I Love My Daddy, Too” and “When the Flowers of Montana Were Blooming.” “Jimmie Davis flat out told me I needed to ditch the violin and pick up the guitar,” she said. “If I intended to sing western music I had to play western music.

It had to be the guitar because … I could not accompany myself on the violin.” In the summer of 1933 she went to visit the World’s Fair in Chicago and met the Girls of the Golden West—Millie and Dolly Good—because her mother had corresponded with them. They informed her that a group on the National Barn Dance, the Prairie Ramblers, were looking for a girl singer and were holding auditions that afternoon. For her audition she sang a Stuart Hamblen song, “Texas Plains,” and got the job, joining a group that had Tex Atchison on fiddle, Floyd “Salty” Holmes on harmonica, guitar and jug, Chick Hurt on mandolin and Jack Taylor on guitar and bass.

The group played the Wake Up and Smile show in WLS each morning at 6:30. In a hotel room alone during a road trip in 1934 she decided to clean out her purse and came across a scrap of paper with “cowboy’s sweetheart” on it. That phrase had been jotted down by J.L. Frank, who was booking and managing several acts at WLS, including Fibber McGee and Molly and Gene Autry. Frank thought it would be a good idea for a song and as she sat there, the words came quickly; she used the tune of Stuart Hamblen’s “Texas Plains.”



The “sweetheart” she was thinking of as she wrote the song was Paul Rose, whom she married on July 3, 1934. Soon after the song was written Patsy and Paul left Chicago and moved to New York where she had her own radio show, Smile a While, sponsored by Kolor Bak. In September 1935, she moved back to Chicago and WLS. “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was an instant hit and she recorded it again for Decca in Chicago on January 26, 1937. This led to her appearance in the Gene Autry movie Colorado Sunset, released in 1939.

Radio performers moved from station to station during the 1930s and 1940s, often at the behest of their sponsor. In 1940 Patsy Montana moved to St. Louis, then, in February 1941, to San Antonio. At the end of 1941 she moved to Hollywood, where she sang on KNX. Then in October 1942 she moved back to Chicago to sing on WJJD before rejoining WLS in January 1943. She purchased her family’s old home place, the Box R Ranch, near Hot Springs, Arkansas, and moved there in 1948 and appeared on a daily radio program on KTHS. She also began performing on Louisiana Hayride, driving there for each Saturday night performance where the Patsy Montana Trio followed Hank Williams. In August 1952 she moved to California, where she remained, although she went back to Chicago briefly in the mid–1950s.

For the rest of her life Patsy lived in Rosemead, California, although she continued to travel throughout the United States, performing western music, with “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” her calling card. However, that wasn’t her only hit. She also recorded “Montana Plains,” “Rodeo Sweetheart,” Shy Anne from Old Cheyenne,” “I Wanna Be a Western Cowgirl,” “The She Buckaroo” and “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Dream Girl.” In 1987 Patsy Montana was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and in November 1989, when the Western Music Association was formed, she was on the first board of advisors, along with such notables as Rex Allen Sr. (chairman), Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Chris LeDoux, Ken Griffis, Michael Martin Murphey, Riders in the Sky, Sons of the Pioneers and Bill Wiley. Patsy Montana was a great yodeler who helped created the image of the yodeling cowgirl and elevated women to a prominent position in country and western music. Patsy Montana passed away on May 3, 1996, about six months short of her 88th birthday.

SOURCES: Green, Douglas B. Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Nashville: Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press, 2002. McCusker, Kristine M. Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky- Tonk Angels: The Women of Barn Dance Radio. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Montana, Patsy. Patsy Montana: The Cowboy’s Sweetheart. With Jane Frost. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

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