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Vernon Dalhart

born Marion Try Slaughter, April 6, 1883. d. September 15, 1948

Although he is often looked upon with some skepticism by folk purists as a pretender to the genre, Vernon Dalhart nonetheless gave the fledgling hillbilly music its first smash hit, when his version of "Wreck of the Old 97" sold in the millions upon its release in 1924.

A Texas native, Dalhart trained in voice at the Dallas Conservatory of Music. Following a move to New York and attempts to sing opera there, he first recorded in 1917 for Edison, developing a skill with popular "dialect" songs that earned him the attention of Victor Records. The tremendous hits he had for victor, including "Wreck of the Old 97" and "The Death of Floyd Collins," gave definition to the business of hillbilly music. Although Dalhart has never been considered important stylistically, his impact on the development of country music cannot be denied.

Dalhart continued to record until 1939, but never again matched his early successes.

Adapted from:

Russell, Tony. "Vernon Dalhart." The Encyclopedia of Country Music. ed. Paul Kingsbury. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 131-32.