Vernon Dalhart (born, Myron Try Slaughter II)
VERNON DALHART (1883-1948) was originally a light opera tenor. He recorded
prolifically during the acoustic era of recording and the early years of electric
recoding - over 1600 selections from 1916 to 1939. He started as a classical
singer but eventually recorded almost every type of song. He is best known for
his "hillbilly" type songs. His hit, "The Prisoner's Song"
is allegedly the biggest-selling non-holiday record of the pre-1955 era selling
more than than seven million copies!
By early 1924 folk, hillbilly or mountain music (record companies used all three terms) had already been recorded and was selling fairly well, mostly in the rural South. One such recording was "The Wreck On The Southern Old 97," performed by guitarist and harmonica-player Henry Whitter on Okeh 40015 and issued in early 1924. Dalhart was convinced that he could make a superior recording of this and talked Edison executives into letting him record it early in 1924 (some sources say Edison's son, Charles, suggested that Dalhart record the song). In learning the words directly from the Whitter disc, Dalhart misunderstood some phrases, which resulted in slightly different lyrics.
The Country Music Foundation called Dalhart a one man recording industry when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1981.
[Significantly more information can be found in "The Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925."]
Biographical sources: "Billy Murray, The Phonograph Industry's First Great Recording Artist," by Hoffmann, Carty, & Riggs; "The Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925," by Tim Gracyk.
This page was updated on February 25, 2004.