Chief Redbird on film

Vintage movie of Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys features Detroit bandleader Chief Redbird as a young man.

This Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, the first book signing event takes place at D:hive in downtown Detroit. Click here to see the flier. Friday evening we’ll present tributes to guitarist Al Allen, and bandleader Chief Redbird. Redbird died in 1978, and many of us never had an opportunity to meet him. Thankfully, Redbird’s daughter Della will be with us to reminisce, along with Al Allen himself, who played guitar for Redbird on many occasions. Stories about Chief Redbird and Al Allen can be found in the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”

Chief Redbird’s first break into the top tier of show business was with Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys. He was known as Chief Sanders, then. From about 1927 to 1933, Redbird worked with the group, performing in vaudeville circuits and radio stations across the Midwest and East. Lucky for us, the group was so popular that they were invited to make a motion picture with sound. Here are parts one and two of the film, which give us an inkling of the immense talent Chief Redbird brought to stages in Detroit and across Southeast Michigan.

At the start of the first video, Redbird plays a cello (at right, in the still). At the start of the second, Redbird plays fiddle (second from right, in the still).

9 Comments. Leave new

  • Thoroughly enjoyed this article and the video music, what a treasure to South east Michigan.

  • Chief Red Bird! Wow. My father, Art Brooke played Steel Guitar in his band in the early 40’s in Detroit. He really liked Chief and was greatly saddened to hear of his demise.
    I only met Chief and his daughtoer once at their home when I was a young boy but I remember what a nice man he was.

  • Douglas Sanders
    April 19, 2023 9:47 pm

    My name is Douglas Sanders and William Redbird (Sanders) is my great uncle. My Grandfather was John Sanders, William’s brother. Thank you for remembering him; I cherish the heritage!

    • Thank you for your comment! I devoted an entire chapter to Chief Redbird in the book. Not only did his “Cherokee Boogie” become a popular hit song more than once, but his personal story was fascinating to research. Meeting his relatives in the Detroit area was also a great experience!

    • I met him as a child on the Tot Lot playground at Metro Beach in the ’70s, where he was giving out autographed photos to children and making a huge impression on more than one wide-eyed youngster, I’m sure. I know I treasured that photo and still have it tucked away safely in a folder somewhere. This was the day I finally wondered if I could find any information online about who he’d been. Nice to know his family is still around.

      • Thanks for sharing your memory of Chief Redbird, Gail! To find out more about his accomplishments, I devoted an entire chapter of the “Detroit Country Music” book to the story of his life and career in music.

  • Becky Sanders
    April 24, 2023 3:22 pm

    Chief Redbird is my great uncle also. My grandfather was Sam Sanders, another brother of Uncle Bill. While I never saw the Chief live, we enjoyed listening to tape recordings my dad (his nephew) had. I saw in the book a quote from Chief Redbird that included my grandpa Sam. It was pretty funny. He said for playing a dance they earned $5 in cash & $900 worth of fun. The chief made my dad an authentic beautiful headdress. I ordered a copy of the book for my dad. I’m happy I came across your website. Thank you!


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