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Vernon Dalhart

Having come to country music from a classical background, Vernon Dalhart managed to dominate the industry until new recordings began to represent the authentic origins of the form. Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter in Jefferson, Texas in 1883. Dalhart’s father was murdered when he was ten, after which the family relocated to the city of Dallas. In his youth, Dalhart worked as a cowboy and would perform at community events. He attended the Dallas Conservatory of Music, where he dreamed of becoming an opera singer. In pursuit of this dream, and having married in 1901, he moved his family to New York City in 1910, where he sang and worked in a music store. By 1913, he had begun performing in light opera productions and auditioned to record for Edison. By 1923, he had made over 400 recordings in myriad contemporary genres including light classical, pop, minstrel, Hawaiian, and ballads. The year 1924 saw his most famous release, “The Wreck of the Old 97,” for Victor. The record became the first to sell 1 million copies, eventually reached 7 million, and caused the recording industry to wake up to the commercial possibilities of country material—which led Victor to send Ralph Peer south to audition talent. Despite this importance, Dalhart remained obscure, owing to the fact that he recorded using over 100 pseudonyms. He continued recording through the 1930s but, by the end of the decade, the accessibility of more authentic country music and the birth of new styles like Western swing had led to a nadir in his popularity. He moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut where he taught voice lessons, worked as a night watchman, and died in 1948. In 1981, the Country Music Hall of Fame recognized Dalhart’s importance to the establishment of the country recording industry and inducted him posthumously.