Don Edwards, Legendary Cowboy Singer, Dead at 86

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: BrianAJackson

Legendary country music singer and cowboy Don Edwards has passed away at 86. Edwards, who spent over six decades singing about the beauty of the natural American West, died on Oct. 23, per Saving Country Music

Born and raised in the rural farming town of Boonton, New Jersey, Edwards grew up dreaming about the American West from reading books about cowboys. He also learned how to play the guitar at 10 to try and be akin to classic Western artists such as Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Jimmie Rodgers

At 16, Edwards moved to Texas and New Mexico to work in the oil fields and experience the authentic experience of the American west. 

Later, in 1961, he worked for Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, hired him as a singer, actor, and stuntman for five years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue a music career. 

Sadly, Nashville didn’t appreciate Edwards’ love for Western flair. However, Edwards was able to release an album, but it was met with little success. 

After his stint on Music Row, he moved to Fort Worth to continue his recording career, which began to take off in 1980 when he met DJ Larry Scott, who was able to get Edwards in the studio with the surviving members of Gene Autry’s band and the Sons of the Pioneers to record Happy Cowboy. 

Don Edwards gained cult following thanks to his genuine love for American west, cowboy way of life

Later, Edwards traveled to the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, which inspired him to release books and cassette tapes of traditional cowboy music. As a result, he started to gain a cult following.

In 1992, he signed with Warner Western and began to release albums of traditional cowboy and Western music. Later in 1998, he released My Hero, Gene Autry: A Tribute on Autry’s 90th birthday. In 2001, he tributed Marty Robbins with the help of Waddie Mitchell and the Fort Worth Symphony. In 2002, he worked with bluegrass legend Peter Rowan on High Lonesome Cowboy.

Thanks to his work, he became synonymous with Western music as well as cowboy poetry. In addition, he worked as an actor, most notably playing Smokey in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer. He was nominated for two Grammy Awards. He also appeared on the Grammy-winning album Other Voices, Other Rooms by Nanci Griffith with the track “Night Rider’s Lament.” In 2005, Edwards was inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame.

On and off stage, Edwards was a true conservationist regarding the American west’s traditional music and the cowboy lifestyle. Now, it’s up to a new generation of cowboy and Western singers to do right by Edwards and pave their own way for the genre.