HOUSTON – The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo welcomed its first star entertainer in 1942. In the decades since, hundreds of musicians have graced the Rodeo’s rotating stage.
But only a select few -- nine to be exact -- have been inducted into the Rodeo’s Star Trail of Fame, which pays tribute to the performers who made a significant impact on the show and the local community.
Surely, only a few Houstonians are still around who remember seeing the inductees who appeared during the rodeo’s early years. America’s great singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers lent their charisma, prestige and producing expertise in the 40s and 50s -- but countless locals have attended performances by some of the more contemporary inductees like Charley Pride, George Strait and Reba McEntire. Some of these entertainers have performed at the rodeo more than 20 times. Others only made a handful of appearances, but shattered audience records every time they came.
Without further ado, here are nine of the most influential entertainers in the Rodeo’s history:
Gene Autry, Hollywood’s great singing Texas cowboy
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1942 – ‘45, ‘47 – ‘48, ‘55
Born in 1907 on a small farm near Tioga, Texas, Autry began his climb to fame in the mid-1930′s with the success of his first recording, an original song titled “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine.” Thereafter, with his trusty chestnut steed Champion the Wonder Horse, Autry starred in numerous films which would propel him to stardom.
Western swing, pop, holiday classics -- the indefatigable Autry could do it all. His rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” is accepted as the version, while his Christmas classics “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are among his biggest hits.
Throughout his career, Autry kept his rural roots close. He toured small towns and performed in as many local fairs and rodeos as he could cram into his schedule. In 1942, the singing cowboy made Houston history when he became the Houston Rodeo’s first big entertainer.
Autry went on to perform at the rodeo seven more times and helped produce the event during its early years.
For his contributions to the show, Gene Autry was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 1996.
“This larger than life cowboy hero set a high standard for future Houston Rodeo entertainers,” RodeoHouston organizers wrote of the icon.
Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1950, ‘52, ‘57, ‘60, ‘68-69, ‘72
Another star who made an impact on the Houston Rodeo -- and another singing cowboy -- this one by the name of Roy Rogers.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1911, Rogers’ climb to fame began when he made his radio debut in 1931 as a member of Tom Murray’s Hollywood Hillbillies. Thereafter, Rogers assembled another group, the Sons of the Pioneers, with fellow singer-songwriters Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. By 1934, the group had gained a level of renown. They recorded their first commercial album and began appearing in movies.
In 1937, the charismatic Rogers landed the starring role in a film called ‘’Under Western Stars.” The role beget more movie roles and, ultimately, the NBC television program “The Roy Rogers Show,” which aired between 1951 and 1957 and starred his wife, Dale Evans, his horse Trigger and their German shepherd Bullet. A midcentury media darling, Rogers usurped Autry as “King of the Cowboys,” a title he’d never relinquish.
Rogers made his first appearance at the Houston Rodeo in 1950. Between 1952 and 1972, Rogers serenaded Houston Rodeo attendees six more times.
“Roy Rogers personified ‘the good guy in the white hat,’ and was so special to Houston audiences, he was the star of the Show’s silver jubilee, 25th anniversary celebration,” RodeoHouston organizers wrote of Rogers.
For his contributions to the show, Rogers was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 1996.
Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1970, ‘74
From February 27, 1970 to March 1, 1970, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll performed six shows at Houston’s Astrodome as part of the Texas Livestock Show and Rodeo. One of his performances drew a crowd of over 43,000 – breaking the rodeo’s performance attendance record. He broke the record when he returned to the rodeo in 1974.
All in all, during those performances in the 1970s, Elvis Presley entertained some 300,000 lucky fans.
“He brought unmatched-to-this-day charisma to a small center stage in a giant dirt-covered arena,” RodeoHouston organizers wrote of Presley. “People still talk about those eight performances when The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll confirmed his status as one of the true ‘stars’ of the Houston Rodeo.”
For his contributions to the show, Presley was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame.
Charley Pride, country music’s first Black superstar
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1970, ‘72-87, ‘89, ‘91, 2002
Known for hits “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,”Charley Pride is considered country music’s first Black superstar. During his decades-spanning career, Pride sold some 70 million records, amassed more than 50 Top 10 hits and won three Grammys. In 1971, the Country Music Association named him its Entertainer of the Year. In 1993, Pride accepted a longstanding invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry and by 2000, he had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
During his trailblazing career, Pride performed at the Houston Rodeo a staggering 20 times. By 2002, the last year Pride performed at the rode, he held the show’s record for the number of years performed (20), the number of performances (37) and the number of fans entertained (1,337,593), according to RodeoHouston. He is one of only three artists who entertained more than one million fans in the Astrodome. The other two are George Strait and Reba McEntire.
Pride is so much a part of the rodeo’s entertainment history that, when he was inducted into the Show’s Star Trail in 1997, he was called “Mr. Livestock Show and Rodeo” by then-show President Jim Bloodworth, according to RodeoHouston.
In December 2020, Pride died of COVID-19. He was 86.
George Strait, King of Country
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1983-97, 2002-04, ‘06-07, ‘13, ‘19
The Texas native first took the stage in 1983, quite by chance, when country music star Eddie Rabbitt was unable to perform due to an illness. RodeoHouston organizers scrambled to fill the gap in their lineup. Several names were tossed around. Among them, country music newcomer George Strait. During his impromptu rodeo debut, Strait stole the show when he rode around the Astrodome arena on a horse, shaking hands with the audience and waving his hat. Needless to say, he quickly cemented himself as a crowd favorite and was asked back to the rodeo year after year.
Strait has been part of the rodeo through several of its milestone celebrations. He was the last rodeo entertainer at the Astrodome, where he set the all-time attendance record. He was the first rodeo performer to appear in NRG Stadium, and his 2019 performance currently holds the venue’s all-time attendance record.
All in all, the King of Country has entertained more than 1.5 million RodeoHouston fans. For his contributions to the show, Strait was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 1996.
Strait will make his 31st appearance at RodeoHouston on March 20, 2022.
Reba McEntire, Queen of Country
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1984, ‘87-89, ‘91-2000, ‘04, ‘07, ‘09, ‘12, ‘14
A living country music legend, Reba McEntire has sold more than 75 million records, amassed 25 No. 1 hits, and has even starred in her own eponymous television show.
McEntire is one of only three RodeoHouston entertainers who performed for more than one million fans in the Astrodome. The other two are Charley Pride and George Strait.
Throughout her career, McEntire has performed at RodeoHouston a jaw-dropping 19 times.
During a 2007 interview with RodeoHouston staff, McEntire said she visited the Astrodome long before she started singing.
“I used to watch my brother rope calves there, and my ex-husband was a bulldogger,” she said. “I also remember going to a baseball game in the Astrodome on my senior class trip to Houston, in 1973. I knew all about the Astrodome.”
McEntire said she was planning to compete in a barrel race in the Astrodome in 1974, but had to cancel because her horse was injured. In 1984, McEntire finally made it to the Astrodome, not as a barrel racer, but as a singer on the rotating stage. She opened for Charley Pride.
For her contributions to the show, McEntire was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 2007.
Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1992-2002, 2004-13, ‘15, ‘17
Known for his enduring hits “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” and “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” Alan Jackson is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Jackson has performed at Houston Rodeo an incredible 22 times and has entertained more than one million attendees.
For his contributions to the show, Jackson was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 2011.
“He has without a doubt become a RodeoHouston favorite, with his deep, southern twang,” RodeoHouston writes of Jackson. “Since the early 1990s, Alan Jackson has certainly put his unique brand on Houston and its fans.”
Brooks & Dunn, country music’s dynamic duo
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1992-2010, 2019
Country musicians Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, who since 1990 have performed together as the duo Brooks & Dunn (They joined forces at the behest of a record company executive), have entertained over one million RodeoHouston Fans.
The pair have released 10 studio albums, including “Waitin’ on Sundown,” “Borderline” and “Red Dirt Road,” and have sold more than 30 million records.
Among their many hits are “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” “Neon Moon” and “1, 2 Many.”
For the duos contribution to the show, Brooks & Dunn was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 2008.
Selena, Queen of Tejano music
Years performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 1994-95 (with Los Dinos – 1993)
The Queen of Tejano performed at the Houston Rodeo three times. Her performance at the Astrodome in 1995 would be the last televised performance of her career.
Quintanilla opened her iconic Feb. 26, 1995 Astrodome performance with “I Will Survive,” followed by a mix of popular disco songs. She also sang her own hits, including “Amor Prohibido” and “Baila” and closed out the night with “Como La Flor.” The sparkly purple jumpsuit Selena wore is one of her most memorable looks to this day.
A month later, Selena’s fan club president Yolanda Saldivar shot the star to death at a Corpus Christi motel. Saldivar remains behind bars serving a life sentence in a prison in Gatesville, Texas. She will be available for parole on March 30, 2025.
For her contributions to the show, Selena was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 2020.
“Selena entertained nearly 180,000 Rodeo fans during these performances,” RodeoHouston organizers wrote of the icon. “She will forever be loved by her fans, and continues to inspire generations with her music.”
Who is your favorite Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo performer?