My last post mentioned one of the old 78 rpm records that I grew up listening to, and as I just learned more about the gentleman who sang it, I thought I’d share the interesting growth of his career and his impact on country music and music publishing as a whole. The following is excerpted from the YouTube website below one of his recordings:
Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter in Marion County, Jefferson, Texas. He took his stage-name from two towns, Vernon and Dalhart in Texas, between which he punched cattle in the 1890s. Dalhart’s father, Robert Marion Slaughter was killed in a fight with his brother-in-law, Bob Castleberry, when Vernon was age 10.
When Vernon was 12 or 13, the family moved from Jefferson to Dallas, Texas. Vernon, who already could play the jew’s harp and harmonica, received vocal training at the Dallas Conservatory of Music.
He saw an advertisement in the local paper for singers and applied and was auditioned by Thomas Alva Edison; he would thereafter make numerous records for Edison Records. From 1916 until 1923, using numerous pseudonyms, he made over 400 recordings of light classical music and early dance band vocals for various record labels. He was already an established singer when he made his first country music recordings which cemented his place in music history.
Dalhart’s 1924 recording of “The Wreck of the Old 97” – a classic American railroad ballad about the September 27, 1903 derailment of Southern Railway Fast Mail train No. 97 near Danville, Virginia – for the Victor Talking Machine Company, became a runaway hit, alerting the national record companies to the existence of a sizable market for country-style vocals. It became the first southern song to become a national success. The double-sided single eventually sold more than seven million copies, a colossal amount for a mid-1920s recording. It was the best-selling single to its time, and was the biggest-selling non-holiday record in the first seventy years of recorded music.
Research by Billboard statistician Joel Whitburn determined “The Prisoner’s Song” to have been a #1 hit for 12 weeks in 1925-26. In 1998, “The Prisoner’s Song” was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century.”
Please spend a few moments listening to a few of the hits recorded by Mr. Dalhart on You Tube. There have since been a Broadway musical and several movies showing different treatments of the story of Floyd Collins’ death. Yet however you think of Mr. Dalhart, the voice is a classic, the music a tribute to our country’s cultural concerns back in the 1920’s.