When my brother and I were growing up in a small, southern town, one thing that we looked forward to each week was a TV show with a singing cowboy called Fred Kirby’s Little Rascals. We watched it on our small, black and white set topped by a rabbit ear antenna. The singing cowboy was Fred Kirby, his sidekick, Uncle Jim, and his paint horse was named Calico — I was enthralled.
When my grandfather told us that our family was related to the singing cowboy on TV, I could not believe what I was hearing. Fred Kirby was famous!
When my dad told us that we were going to meet our cousin Fred Kirby — the singing cowboy with the paint horse on TV every week — I thought all of my dreams had come true.
Fred Kirby was making an appearance at the local fairgrounds in the late 1960s. We did meet him. I remember very little of the event even though it meant the world to me at the time. I do remember my dad telling the singing cowboy that my brother and I were relatives of his. I cannot remember his reply, but I am sure he was not particularly impressed.
Joshua Marion Langford (1859–1927) and Mary B Rivers (1859–1889) are my genetic connection to fame. Joshua Langford was the son of John J. Langford (1818–1892) and Sarah Anne Langford (1833–1881), both descendants of the same Langford family. Mary B. Rivers was the daughter of James Robert Rivers (1835–1912) and Sybil Elizabeth “Sibby” Fikes (1843–1916).
Joshua Marion Langford was married twice, first to Mary B. Rivers with whom he had three children: Ruth Langford (1880–1953), Jacob Astor Langford (1884–1952) and Sybil Lavinia Langford (1886–1934). His second wife and mother of many children was Mattie Louella “Mittie” Hill (1873–1928).
Ruth Langford was my ancestor. She married Ira O. Burton (1875–1938) and their son Walter Ellis Burton (1899–1924) was my great grandfather.
Ruth’s sister Sybil Lavinia Langford married David Traxler Kirby (1885–1941) and they were the parents of the singing cowboy, Frederick Austin Kirby, known to children of all ages as Fred Kirby.
Fred Kirby was born near Charlotte, North Carolina. His father was a Pentecostal Holiness minister for the last 30 years of his life, born in Darlington County SC in 1886 to John Monroe Pilkington KIrby and Anna Martha Allen. Fred had many siblings — six brothers and three sisters.
Fred’s mother instilled into him a love of music, teaching him how to play the guitar and sing hymns. HIs first real job was at the radio station WIS in Columbia, SC when he was only seventeen years old. WIS (Wonderful Iodine State) was the very last station in the country to be granted a three-letter call sign.
A year later, Fred began working at WBT in Charlotte, NC. He sang alone as well as with others and spent ten years working there learning the business. He left Charlotte in 1939 and made stops in Cincinnati, Chicago, and St Louis. During World War II, he sold war bonds over the radio and was recognized for his work. He made his way back to Charlotte in 1943, still singing and entertaining anyone who would listen.
He composed and recorded a song after the United States obliterated Hiroshima in 1945. The song was called Atomic Power and it was a hit. Fred Kirby enjoyed much success in the 1940s. His musical career was on fire.
Fred Kirby hosted several children’s television shows beginning in the 1950s. He would continue in this phase of his career until well into the 1980s. He entertained untold numbers of children during these years. He was a household fixture on the small screens in the living rooms of many generations of the young. When not appearing on television, Fred could be found at Tweetsie Railroad in Boone, North Carolina. He was the cowboy hero who prevented the outlaws from robbing the train.
Yes, the man in the white cowboy hat was one of the good guys. Fred Kirby was my family.