Hadley Barrett: The voice that filled the arena
March 10, 2017
A competitor, musician, announcer and the type of person all should aspire to emulate, the late Hadley Barrett was the voice that filled rodeo arenas all across the nation. Barrett passed away from heart failure at the age of 87, a mere five days after completing his last rodeo in San Antonio, Texas.
Barrett's rodeo announcing career truly got started in 1964 at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, Neb. Part of Nebraskaland Days, Barrett announced this rodeo the past 52 years consecutively.
Inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame, Barrett leaves behind a legacy and wrote himself into the history books.
"Hadley defined what it meant to be a superb rodeo announcer," said David Fudge, executive director of Nebraskaland Days. "He wasn't just a top-shelf rodeo announcer; his talent transcended into other areas of his life."
“There wasn’t a more gentleman-like person in the sport of rodeo than Hadley.”
A North Platte, Neb., native, Barrett grew up with rodeo and music. His rodeo career originated on the backs of broncs and bulls but his true home would eventually be far above the dirt arena with microphone in hand.
A four-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the Year, Barrett set the standard for generations of announcers to come. One of the first to announce from the back of a horse, Barrett knew how to have a conversation with the audience to not only get them excited about the events but to help fans of all backgrounds understand the sport.
"Hadley knew his stuff, the cowboys, the animals, everything," Fudge said. "He knew every aspect of what was going on in the rodeo in front of him in a way that I think a lot of announcers these days try and replicate."
EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE
Barrett brought genuine experience from each event in rodeo to the announcer's stand from his time spent as a competitor.
"He lived it [rodeo]," said Garrison Panzer, Oklahoma State University animal science freshman and professional rodeo announcer. "He knew what it took to be a good bronc rider, a good bull rider and a good roper. His knowledge of the sport and competitors is amazing to me."
His work ethic developed from a lifetime spent on a ranch and long nights teaching himself to play the guitar. In a previous interview with Rodeo News, Barrett said he would just pluck the guitar strings to the glow of an oil lamp in his room at night.
Hadley Barrett and the Westerners formed their band in North Platte and kept dancers moving around the floor across the plains of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. They even played backup for big stars traveling across the state. Announcing eventually kept Barrett from playing in the band full-time.
"He continued to record music on-and-off throughout his career as an announcer," Fudge said. "He was also a central figure in several television broadcasts, both with RFD-TV and the National Finals Rodeo broadcast."
Even after several trips to the massive rodeos in Las Vegas, Cheyenne and Calgary, Barrett remained humble and kind to everyone he encountered.
"There wasn't a more gentleman-like person in the sport of rodeo than Hadley," Panzer said. "He reached the top, both in life and the sport of rodeo, and yet you still never heard anyone talking bad about him."
Fudge said mentorship was a big aspect of Hadley's career, he was known for giving young announcers advice and even listening to their tapes, at the minimum.
"Part of Hadley's legacy is the next generation of announcers he mentored," Fudge said. "Because of him, there is a whole new crop of announcers out there striving to be as good as he was."
His inspiration is also felt outside of the realm of announcers. Panzer's little brother happens to be named Hadley, after Barrett. However, Garrison himself is the one in the family following in Barrett's footsteps.
"When Hadley is announcing he just has a cool, calm, collected demeanor," Panzer said. "You could see when he was announcing that he loved talking about God, country and the spirit of rodeo. And when he talked about the flag, it gave me goose bumps."
More than just an eloquent speaker behind the mic, Fudge said Barrett was known for his wonderful smile and infectious laugh. He was naturally easy to talk to, he added.
"He was a friend in every sense of the word," Fudge said. "In the way you would want a friend to be."
A proud cornhusker, Barrett was never shy about being from Nebraska and letting people know it, Fudge added. He was a gracious and humble man who served the rodeo industry to the very best of his ability while never forgetting where he came from and who helped him along the way.
"His ultimate legacy will be that he did his job at the highest level possible," Fudge said. "At the same time, he was one of the finest human beings I ever had the opportunity to meet." ❖
— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb., who is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at email@example.com.