Few of us ever saw Fred in "civilian" clothes. Even after he was elderly and frail, in public he wore his traditional western attire. Here's Fred with Bob Inman, who wrote, "He never really had to grow up...the rest of us had to put away our guns and spurs and buckskin-fringed shirts and become tiresome adults. But he never did. And it was not just the attire that kept him young, it was his joyous association with children."






People | Fred Kirby

Fred Kirby when you hear Rossini's William Tell Overture, if you think of The Lone Ranger, they say you don't know squat about classical music.

Well, when you hear Fred Kirby's name mentioned, if you think of The Little Rascals or Tweetsie Railroad, you don't know much about the man who was, for so many years, our resident singing cowboy.

Born in Charlotte in 1910, he started his radio career in 1931 at WIS, Columbia, S. C., and came to WBT one year later. During World War II he helped sell so many war bonds he became know as the Victory Fred in our mailroomCowboy. Did you know all that? There's so much more to learn about this genuinely warm and decent man. Read a very nice biography of Fred on the Answers.com Web site.

Fred was a sweet, gentle man who loved everyone he met, especially children, and everyone loved him back.

Here's Fred in WBTV's mailroom in the 1950s. That's Max Davis handing over the fan mail.

He was always the same, no matter where he was or who he was with, always in western attire and usually wearing his six gun, fully loaded with blanks (we always assumed).

Charlotte's Carousel Parade each Thanksgiving featured Fred, the Carolina's favorite cowboy, and his horse Calico. These shots were taken in the late 1960s, back in those golden days when downtowns everywhere had big retail stores.

Publicity photo from Jim Scancarelli collection. Parade photos courtesy Chuck Hemrick. Mailroom photo courtesy Irma Davis.

From Reminisce Magazine, May 2009 issue. Courtesy Jim Scancarelli.


How we luuve the Little Rascals, Little Rascals...”

If it was Sunday afternoon, it was Fred and the Rascals. Between these short films (made when Fred himself was barely out of his teens), he would sing a song, or tell the boys and girls to be good to their mothers, or maybe engage in some tomfoolery with Uncle Jim Mahaffee. This flier from the 1950's is one of hundreds WBTV mailed out upon request.

Flier courtesy of Tim Hartis

On The Road

The Colonial Theatre was in Winston-Salem, NC. One of the featured performers was "Elmer Peabody." Could that have been Hank Warren, who sometimes appeared as "Elmer Warren" or "Elmer Briarhopper?" In any case, he would be "freckled pink to see you."





At the State Theatre in Salisbury, NC. 1936.






Another appearance at the State the following year.





And six years later, in 1943.

State Theatre ads courtesy Mike Cline.


From The Watauga Democrat

Fred Kirby Celebrates 80 Young Years,
Will Be Honored At Tweetsie This Saturday

By Jim Thompson

Editor's note: You might not know the names of the last five governors, but if you live in the Carolinas, you know who Fred Kirby is.

Three generations of North Carolinians have grown up listening to everyone's favorite marshal on WBT radio and then WBTV. Every Saturday morning, thousands switch on WBTV at 10:30 a.m. to enjoy `The Little Rascals" as presented by Fred Kirby.

Fred Kirby is the sort of man you never outgrow, just like you don't outgrow a favorite uncle.

This month, he celebrates his 80th birthday, on July 19.

Tweetsie Railroad, where he was marshal for almost 30 years, will honor this remarkable man on July 7. Fred Kirby Day will include a very special gift for him: Tweetsie is dedicated their new handicapped access equipment to him. This includes a ramp for the train itself, as well as for a bus that will take people to the top of the mountain. Plus, everyone in the High Country will have a chance to say hello to Fred Kirby again this weekend.

In this interview, everyone's favorite cowboy shared some memories of his career and life:

MT: How did you become a singing cowboy?

Fred on the Tweetsie engineFK: Well, it started way back when I was in late teens. My mother taught me to play the guitar, and I always did like to sing. The late Jimmy Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler, I tried to sing exactly like he did. I loved all of his songs and wanted to copy him.

We lived in Florence, South Carolina, at that time. I went to Columbia to see my cousin on my birthday. My guitar had to be fixed, so my cousin took me to this music store. It was directly across from a radio station, WIS.

I got my guitar and I got it fixed and ready and my cousin Bill said "Would you like to see a radio station?" That was something I never dreamed I would see. I hadn't even been thinking about it, but I said I'd love to see it. So he took me across the street and said "go in and I'll be in in a little bit, I've got to call dad and tell him where we are." I went in the radio station and there wasn't a soul to be seen. It was just empty.

I went into the studio and there stood a mike. I'd seen pictures of them in the newspaper. There wasn't anybody around, so I thought, well, I might just as well pick my guitar and sing a few songs—pretend I'm on radio. So I picked every song I could think of and sang all the way through.

Then Charlie Crutchfield, who was President of our company, came out with the program director and said "well, you get the job, buddy."

I said, "what! I don't know what you're talking about." He said, "you called up this morning and made an appointment for an audition." I told them I didn't know anything about singing on a radio, but he said "you just did, you sang beautifully."

They had a 12 o'clock news and home and farm hour and I went on then. That was the beginning of my radio and television career. That was when I started singing professionally—though it wasn't very professional, they never did pay me. They gave me a set of guitar strings. (Laughs) I remained there for about seven or eight months.

MT: Then did you go on to Charlotte radio?

FK: Yes. This is weird; it sounds like something you wouldn't believe. There was this handwriting expert at WIS who was asking people to send in their names and he would tell their story, just from the name. He would read some of them over on the air.

So he just called me and said "Fred"—by the way, I told him my name was Freddie Kirby and he said "that just doesn't sound right. Why don't we just call you Fred Kirby?" Anyway, he took my name home and he came back the next day and said, "well Fred, you're planning to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, to WBT." I said, "how in the world did you know that, because I didn't tell a soul." He said, "you're going in a few weeks because you've got to have the measles first." Imagine all that—and I had the measles. After I got through with the measles, I took off for Charlotte. He told me they would hire me the next day, and sure enough they said "you've got the job."

MT: And you've been on WBT and WBTV ever since.

FK: Well, not ever since. I remained there for a good long while. I started off on Bill Davis' Cotton Blossoms, that was the music that was there, so I joined them, plus another show they gave me. We had a man named Clare Shadwell that went to WLW in Cincinnati and he called Don White and me—we did a duet on some of our stuff—and he said "how would like to come and be on WLW?" I said, "man alive, that's a big station! We'd love to." So we went to Cincinnati and we were on for a year. Don went with another outfit, and I got a call from WLS in Chicago wanting me to come to Chicago. I went there and remained for two years. Then they called me from KOMX in St. Louis, Missouri.

During the two years I stayed there, I sold over $1 million in war bonds. They had a little white house there on the square in St. Louis and that was where we entertained and sold war bonds.

Then Charlie Crutchfield, who had become program director of WBT in Charlotte, called me and said "don't you think it's about time you came home to the Briarhoppers?" And, boy, I was homesick, so I came back to the Briarhoppers and started another show for children, called Fred Kirby's Tiny Town.

Television signed on, and when it did, they switched my show over to TV and called it Junior Rancho. I've been there around 45 to 50 years.

Of course, I'm celebrating my 80th young birthday the 19th of this month.

MT: When people think of you, one of the first things that comes to mind is your love of children. Have you always loved children?

FK: That's something that's absolutely true. I'll tell you what changed me. I went to the Shriner's Hospital in St. Louis and visited there at least once a week. They took me over and I took them over. I'd sing to them and they'd smile ear to ear. I had always entertained for the physically and mentally handicapped.

But I said when I left St. Louis I would change my way of living, and devote myself to entertaining physically and mentally handicapped children. That's what I'm doing right now.

That's why I'm looking forward to coming up to Tweetsie. I'll be meeting my old Little Rascals pals, who grew up with me over the 30 years I've been on with the show—and the little ones now who watch.

MT: Do you plan to retire or keep going?

FK: I imagine someday they'll retire me again. But as long as I'm able I think they'll let me go.

Final message for all of Fred Kirby's High Country friends: "Tell everybody up there howdy for me!"


Fred's Final Sunset

From The (Gaffney, S.C.) Cherokee Chronicle

By Tommy Martin, Editor/Publisher

Spanky and Buckwheat's adopted father is gone.

I saw on TV this week where Fred Kirby had died. The Fred Kirby that became a good friend to all of us Baby Boomers through Channel 3 in Charlotte.

For many, many years, Cowboy Fred Kirby was the host of the "Little Rascals Club" on Channel 3. Riding his horse, Calico and with his trusty sidekick, Uncle Jim, who died a few years before this. Fred became a regular in most Cherokee County households during the 50's and 60's.

I remember asking my Dad to "floorboard it" home from church each Sunday so I wouldn't miss much of Fred's show, which came on at noon for a long period of time. Fred would ride Calico at the first of the show and then they would trot off into the sunset an hour later. During that hour, Fred would invariably sing "Big Rock Candy Mountain", Uncle Jim would tell some horrible jokes and flip his hand under his chin to wave to everybody and the two would show photos of little kids having birthdays that week. And of course, a couple of Little Rascals featurettes would also be included. (My favorite of those was when Uncle George broke out of the nut house and chased all the Rascals around trying to get their candy, unsuccessfully grabbing at them and muttering, "Yum, yum, eat'em up!" Spanky shot him in the rump with a roman candle at the end and knocked him out of the window into the front yard fountain.)

Fred also wrote and sang the "Little Rascals" theme song for the show: "How we love the Little Rascals, Little Rascals, Little Rascals. How we love the Little Rascals, Little Rascals all day. There's Spanky and Buckwheat, Alfalfa and Porky, How we love the Little Rascals, Little Rascals are we." It was never nominated for a Grammy, that's true, but I still catch myself singing it around the house.

Back in those days, you really didn't have much choice when it came to watching Fred Kirby and the Little Rascals. To start with, the only cable in Cherokee County was used to telephone for fish in Broad River or jump start a dead battery at a redneck funeral, so there was only about three or four channels to choose from.

In fact, I remember when there was only one TV channel on the entire dial...WBTV in Charlotte. We got Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks in the early mornings, Big Bill Ward and wrasslin' on Saturday afternoons and Fred Kirby on Sundays. I guess I was about ten or eleven when the Martin family got its first TV set. The screen was so little that we had to take turns watching it!

Those folks just a little older than me can recall days when families sat around the radio for nightly entertainment. Quite a change from today's kids who think the TV remote switch was brought over by Columbus and is one of the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights!

Cowboy Fred Kirby was a good man. I remember his patience a couple of times when he did personal appearances in Gaffney and of course I remember him "killing" all the bad guys 15 or 20 times a day at Tweetsie Railroad. He could smile even with fifty knee-high kids trying to pull his six shooters from their holsters, standing on his shiny Cowboy boots, and wiping strawberry Fruitpops on his white pants.

For folks my age, there seems to be fewer and fewer Fred Kirbys still around these days. And every time we lose another one, we lose a piece of our past.

And a little piece of ourselves.

Happy Trails, Fred.

Reprinted with permission from "Fred Kirby, A Tribute" by Patricial Kirby Medlin.

Kirby cartoon courtesy Dianne Kirby Robinson.