OWENS, RUBY AGNES [TEXAS RUBY]

Sandra George

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OWENS, RUBY AGNES [TEXAS RUBY] (1910–1963). Texas Ruby, country singer, was born Ruby Agnes Owens in Wise County, Texas, on June 6, 1908. She was the daughter of Curcley Sly and Susan Frances Owens. Owens was raised in a musical family. One of her brothers, Doie Hensley, went on to country music fame as “Tex” Owens, the radio cowboy. About 1930 Ruby accompanied her father and brothers on a cattle drive to Fort Worth. As they sat waiting at one of the cattle buying centers, she and her brothers began singing some old cowboy songs to pass the time. During this impromptu sing-a-long, a crowd of cowboys and cattle buyers gathered around to listen. Soon, a radio station stock holder from Kansas City who happened to be in the crowd offered Owens her first spot on national radio.

Texas Ruby, as she came to be called, would be a pioneering figure among female performers within a mostly male-dominated country music industry. Labeled the “Sophie Tucker of the Feminine Folk Singers,” she sang mostly honky-tonk material in a strong, distinctive deep alto and wrote many of her own songs. In the early 1930s she traveled north and performed in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. While in Cincinnati, she met Zeke Clements and soon performed at the Grand Ole Opry with Clements and his Bronco Busters. They were later regulars on a barn dance program on WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, for two years in the mid-1930s. They recorded for Decca in Dallas in February 1937; one of the songs was Jimmie Rodgers’s “Blue Yodel No. 1.” Then they traveled to California to audition for singing parts on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but Ruby missed her audition and parted ways with Clements and his band. In 1937 at the Texas Centennial Celebration in Wise County, Owens met famous “trick fiddler,” Curly Fox (born Arnim LeRoy Fox.) The couple married in 1939 and formed a popular husband-and-wife team that performed on stage and radio throughout the country and eventually signed with Columbia Records.

From 1944 to 1948 the couple appeared frequently at the Grand Ole Opry and were regular stars of the popular Saturday Night Grand Ole Opry. While performing at the Grand Ole Opry, they recorded such tunes as “You’ve Been Cheating on Me,” and “Ain’t You Sorry That You Lied.” During that same time period, Ruby released hit songs of her own with both Columbia Records and King Records. The couple moved to Houston in 1948. For twelve years they continued to hone their act in hopes of someday performing on live television. In 1960 they got their chance when they moved to Los Angeles to appear on the Town Hall Party television show. When they did not garner as much attention as they had hoped through this television appearance, the couple moved to Nashville in 1962.

Unfortunately, by this time Owens’s health was failing, so her husband often performed at the Grand Ole Opry alone. While in Nashville, the couple did manage to record a comeback album that was released on the Starday label. A few days after recording this final album, Owens burned to death in their mobile home on March 29, 1963, while her husband was performing at the Grand Ole Opry. Some associates suspected that she fell asleep while smoking a cigarette. She was buried in Franklin Cemetery in Franklin, Texas. Her single “Shanty Street” was released on King Records posthumously. Columbia Records released a commemorative album entitled Original Recordings of Texas Ruby and Curly Fox: A Memorial Tribute to Texas Ruby. Texas Ruby is in the Houston Institute for Culture’s Texas Music Hall of Fame.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed June 17, 2009. Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann, Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800–2000 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press and the Country Music Foundation Press, 2003). Archie Green, “Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol,” Journal of American Folklore 78 (July–September 1965). Texas Ruby and Curly Fox (http://www.rootsweb.com/~txrober2/TexasRubyCurlyFox.htm), accessed June 17, 2009. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music (New York: Harmony Books, 1977).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Sandra George, "OWENS, RUBY AGNES [TEXAS RUBY]," accessed March 22, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fowjs.

Uploaded on July 14, 2015. Modified on October 25, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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