The Flying Cowboy Passes

Longtime Fan Fair favorite Jimmy Kish, known as “The Flying Cowboy,” died in Nashville last Thursday at age 84.

Mr. Kish was a guitarist, songwriter, publisher, actor, square-dance caller, radio personality and licensed pilot. He had a booth at the first Fan Fair celebration in 1972 and has been a fixture there ever since. Initially, he had his own booth, complete with a plywood airplane. In more recent years he built and managed the booth for The Pioneers of Country Music, known as The Reunionaires.

The Ohio native entered show business in 1945, performing on a medicine show. His singing, guitar playing and square-dance calling led to a radio job on KCOR in San Antonio. Other early radio jobs included WJHP in Jacksonville and KWBN in Williston, North Dakota.

He appeared in the 1946 movie Geronimo Pass with Red River Dave. Returning to Ohio, he worked at radio stations in Youngstown and Ashtabula.

In 1952, Jimmy Kish & His Radio Cowboys became the staff band on WHK in Cleveland. In 1952-54, he was a regular on Pee Wee King’s television show. It was at this time that he earned his pilot’s license. He made a number of records, both as a singer and as a square dance caller.

In 1966, while hosting a radio show on WELW in Willoughby, Ohio, he flew a group of country fans to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry. An announcer dubbed him “The Flying Cowboy,” and the nickname stuck.

In later years, Mr. Kish did cameos in music videos by George Jones, Hank Williams Jr. and Garth Brooks and in the movies Ernest Goes to Jail, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Living Proof and Sweet Dreams.

Jimmy Kish passed away on May 27. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Ruth Kish, by five children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. The funeral was Monday, May 31, with burial following at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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