Born Woodard Maurice Ritter on January 12, 1905, "Tex" was the son of James Everett and Elizabeth (Matthews) Ritter of Murvaul, Texas, in Panola County. He died in Nashville, Tennessee on January 2, 1974. He became one of the best-known singing cowboys in western movies. Tex's youngest son, John Ritter, became a popular TV star in the '70s and '80s.
Tex lived with his sister while growing up in the Jefferson County town of Nederland. He graduated from South Park High in nearby Beaumont. While attending the University of Texas from 1922 to 1927, including a year in law school, Tex found his calling in the Men's Glee Club. He was greatly influenced by the folk music knowledge of, and cowboy folksongs collected by UT professors J. Frank Dobie, Oscar J. Fox, and John A. Lomax.
After a brief enrollment at Northwestern University, Ritter began his singing career at radio station KPRC in Houston in 1929. In 1930, he toured with a band throughout the South and Midwest. The following year, he joined the New York Theater Guild and appeared in Green Grow the Lilacs (the play that later served as the basis for the musical Oklahoma). In 1932, he became a featured singer in the Madison Square Garden Rodeo, which further established his "singing cowboy" reputation. He soon landed a starring role in "The Lone Star Rangers," one of the first western radio programs in New York.
Ritter's first movie contract followed in 1936. He went on to make eighty-five movies, seventy-eight of which were westerns. He distinguished himself from other popular cowboy stars like Gene Autry by singing traditional western folk songs instead of contemporary western tunes. His hits include "Rye Whiskey" (1931), "Boll Weevil" (1945), "Wayward Wind," "Hillbilly Heaven," "You Are My Sunshine" (1946), and "High Noon" (1952).
He married Dorothy Fay Southworth on June 14, 1941. They had two sons. In 1959, Ritter starred in the TV series Ranch Party, which ran until 1962. The Country Music Hall of Fame honored Ritter in 1964 as its fifth inductee. He was president of the Country Music Hall of fame from 1963 to 1965, and launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee in 1970.
Following memorial services in both Nashville and his hometown of Nederland, Tex Ritter was laid to rest at Oak Bluff Memorial Park in Port Neches, near Nederland.
Bibliography: Ron Tyler, ed., The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 5 (Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association, 1996) p. 595.