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March 22

The Sons of the Pioneers’ “The Searchers”

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The Sons of the Pioneers' "The Searchers" 1

Western music pioneers

The Sons of the Pioneers were the foremost vocal and instrumental group in western music. They are also the definitive group specializing in cowboy songs. Therefore, they set the standard for every group that has come since. They were also one of the longest-surviving country music vocal groups in existence. That is if we are going into their seventh decade. More important than their longevity, the greatest achievement of the band lay with the sheer quality of their work.

Their superb harmonies and brilliant arrangements delighted three generations of listeners and inspired numerous performers.

The group’s roots lay in the depths of the Great Depression. It is a time when the American spirit, and the spirits of millions of Americans, had nearly been broken by physical, economic, and emotional privation. Cincinnati-born Leonard Slye had headed out to California in the spring of 1931 from his native Ohio. He entered jobs ranging from driving a gravel truck to picking fruit for the Del Monte Company in California’s Central Valley.By sheer chance, he entered an amateur singing contest on a Los Angeles radio show called Midnight Frolics. And a few days later, he got an invitation to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers.

In the video below, “The Sons of the Pioneers” sings the theme song to the most epic movie made “The Searchers” starring John Wayne.

Now, a man will search for fortune

Of silver and of gold

The silver he finds in his hair

While a weary heart grows old

Ride away , ride away , ride away

“The Searchers” movie

John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS earned its place in the legacy of great American films for a variety of reasons. It became a favorite film of some of the world’s greatest filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Perhaps most notably, it’s the definitive role for John Wayne as an icon of the classic Western. In the movie, he is the hero (or antihero) who must stand alone according to the unwritten code of the West.

The story takes place in Texas in 1868; Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Confederate veteran who visits his brother and sister-in-law at their ranch and is horrified when they are killed by marauding Comanches. Ethan’s search for a surviving niece (played by young Natalie Wood) becomes an all-consuming obsession. With the help of a family friend (Jeffrey Hunter) who is himself part Cherokee, Ethan hits the trail on a five-year quest for revenge. At the peak of his masterful talent, director Ford crafts this classic tale as an embittered examination of racism and blind hatred, provoking Wayne to give one of the best performances of his career.

As with many of Ford’s classic Westerns, THE SEARCHERS must contend with revisionism in its stereotypical treatment of “savage” Native Americans, and the film’s visual beauty (the final shot is one of the great images in all of the Western culture) is compromised by some uneven performances and stilted dialogue. Still, this is undeniably one of the greatest Westerns ever made. Do you agree?


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