Lowery, Fred (1909–1984)

By: Alicia Leschper

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: August 4, 2015

Fred Lowery, the "king of whistlers," was born in Palestine, Texas, on November 2, 1909, the son of William and Mary (White) Lowery. He lost his eyesight before he was two years old. His mother died shortly after his birth, and his father deserted him and his three older sisters, who were then raised by their grandmother Lucy White. In September 1917, at the age of seven, Lowery entered the Texas School for the Blind (now the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired) in Austin, where he was in attendance for the next twelve years.

His whistling career began with the encouragement of his piano teacher, Peggy Richter, and a bird imitator named Ernest Nichols. In May 1929 Lowery and Richter traveled to Chicago, where Lowery took lessons in acting at the American Institute to develop stage presence. In August 1929 he had his first spot on a radio show, the Farm and Home Hour. In November of that year he left the School for the Blind and moved into the home of Peggy Richter. Lowery continued to perform, and soon after a performance at the National Business Confidence Week, a Lions Club event, he received a letter inviting him to try out for a full-time job with the Early Birds pogram on station WFAA in Dallas.

In 1932 entrepreneur and carnival pitchman Henry Murphy hired Lowery, along with the other Early Birds stars, for a six-month tour with Lignon Smith's band in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. They worked out a two-hour program with music and comedy called "Heads Up!" When this program ran out of money, Lowery returned to work at WFAA.

Despite some apprehension and self-doubt, in 1934 he moved to New York City to pursue his musical career. He joined the Vincent Lopez orchestra and, during the ensuing four years with Lopez, met and performed with many stars, including Bing Crosby, Mary Pickford, and Jack Dempsey. Toward the end of 1938 Lowery began working for Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights. After this stint he began touring solo. He had a radio show and hosted La Rue's Supper Club in Indianapolis in the early 1950s. From the 1960s into the early 1980s Lowery entertained schoolchildren at assembly programs.

In his career he also appeared with Steve Allen, Edgar Bergen, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Stan Kenton, Ed Sullivan, and Paul Whiteman. His biggest-selling single was "Indian Love Call" (1939) which sold over two million copies. His autobiography, Whistling in the Dark, was published in 1983.

In 1932 Lowery began courting Gracie Johnston in Dallas. He had met her years earlier at a party he attended in Jacksonville, Texas. Fred and Gracie were married on December 20, 1940. Their only child, Fred M. Lowery, was born the next year. Lowery died at home in Jacksonville on December 11, 1984, and was survived by his wife and son.

Fred Lowery with John R. McDowell, Whistling in the Dark (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican, 1983). Space Age Pop Music: Fred Lowery (http://www.spaceagepop.com/lowery.htm), accessed March 18, 2008. Variety Obituaries, Volume 10 (New York: Garland, 1988).

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

Alicia Leschper, “Lowery, Fred,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lowery-fred.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 5, 2006
August 4, 2015

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