September 18, 1929 – March 2, 2017
Hadley Barrett is a Nebraska legend in the rodeo world, and in the country music world.
Rodeo fans across the nation are familiar with Hadley’s voice, and those who were on dance floors across Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado from the 1950’s through the mid-80’s, listened to Hadley Barrett and the Westerners as he played guitar and sang.
When Hadley was eight, his parents signed him and his brothers, Mike and Bob, up for music lessons. Lessons were fifty cents per student, per week, “which was quite a lot then,” Hadley said. “We were living basically on a cream can check for groceries.” He and his brothers showed promise. “I learned mostly sitting in my room at night with a coal oil lamp and picking,” he recalled.
As a young man, Hadley was riding bareback horses and bulls and doing more ranch work. He never planned on being in a band. But a man he knew through the rodeo business, a good singer, decided to put a band together, and called Hadley to play. Hadley played the guitar and sang while his brother Mike played the electric guitar.
In the mid 1940’s Hadley put together his own band called Hadley Barrett and the Westerners that played at dances, county fairs and grandstand shows across Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.
The band was huge, Hadley recalled, “a lot bigger than we realized at the time.” It was also cutting edge in some of its practices. Band members wore matching outfits, they had a public announcement system, and they would talk between songs, announcing that their next song would be a waltz, for example, or announcing a birthday or anniversary. Hadley also bought a bus with which the band traveled in.
During all this, he was still ranching at home. Having been the last of the Barrett kids to marry, he was running the home place with his dad’s help, working for other ranchers, playing with the band, and rodeoing. He’d begun to make contacts in the rodeo world, which would lead to his next career.
He was friends with Joe Cavanaugh, a rodeo announcer and bull rider, who always found a fill-in while he rode his bull at rodeos he announced. Joe knew Hadley had experience in front of a microphone, so at the Arnold, NE rodeo, he called on Hadley to help. The second performance, Joe was sick and couldn’t talk. The committee asked Hadley to fill in, and “that was the first full-fledged rodeo performance I announced,” he said.
As a result, rodeo committees contacted him asking him to work. He was in the same predicament as Cavanaugh; find someone to announce while he rode his bareback horse or bull. But that didn’t stop committees from hiring him. He announced almost every amateur rodeo he could get to; from Nebraska to Kansas to the edge of Colorado.
In 1964, Harry Waltemuth, committee member either the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, told Hadley he wanted to hire him. Hadley didn’t have a Rodeo Cowboys Association card; Harry didn’t care. When the RCA informed Harry that Hadley would not be announcing their rodeo, as he was not a card holder, Harry told them that if Hadley didn’t announce North Platte, North Platte would not be an RCA rodeo. “That got everybody off dead center,” Hadley quipped.
Hadley did become an RCA member the next year, in 1965 and it didn’t take long for his rodeo career to grow. “The first year was really skinny,” he recalls, but that changed quickly. In his fifty years of pro rodeo (now the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), he’d announced nearly every big rodeo in the country; from Sidney, Iowa, to Greeley, Colorado, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte since 1964.
He’d been the PRCA’s Announcer of the Year four times, and has announced the National Finals Rodeo four times and the National Steer Roping Finals as well. He was the television announcer for the National Finals Rodeo from 1980 through 1990, and from 1994 through 2004, and he’s called the action at the Canadian Finals Rodeo seven times. Hadley was inducted into the PRCA’s Hall of Fame in 1999 and is credited with being one of the first people to announce on horseback. He was also inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 1993, he left North Platte and moved to Kersey, Colorado. His rodeo career had grown to where he needed to be near a big airport. For a while, Hadley’s son Trent took care of his cow herd, but eventually he sold it. “I always considered my rodeo career as a part time job. I was basically a rancher who had this sideline of announcing rodeos. It took a long time to come to my senses that the ranching was my sideline, and the rodeo was my banker for the ranch.”
Hadley and his first wife Clarice had three children: Trent, who lives on the Barrett place north of North Platte, Michelle Corley, married to rodeo announcer Randy Corley, and Kimberly Jurgens. Hadley later remarried Lee. Lee’s children are Travas and Katie Brenner. Hadley and Lee have an adopted daughter, Taleah Barrett.
“Rarely did a week go by that someone didn’t say, “we used to dance to your music,” or “you played at my mom and dad’s prom.”
He kept up a busy rodeo schedule and loved the friendships he’d made. “The friends, that’s where the real value is.”
Hadley passed away on March 2, 2017.