April 6, 1892 – November 17, 1941
Emerging out of Fries, Virginia, millworker-turned-musician Henry Whitter can be counted among the first commercially recorded country musicians. His 1923 version of “The Wreck of the Southern Old 97” for the OKeh label proved to be one of Ralph Peer’s and Polk Brockman’s early successes, along with Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane,” and provided Vernon Dalhart with the blueprint for his multi-million selling “Wreck of the Old ’97” the following year. Whitter was one of the first country performers to use a harmonica rack, allowing him to play guitar and harmonica simultaneously, and while not considered a particularly distinguished musician or singer, his legacy is built on his enthusiasm for the music, and a fruitful partnership with fiddler G.B. Grayson that started in 1927. The recordings Whitter and Grayson made over the next three years are considered among the best of the hillbilly genre. Sadly, the partnership ended in 1930 when Grayson was killed in an auto accident. Whitter was devastated, rarely performing for the remainder of his life.
Cohen, Norm. “Henry Whitter.” The Encyclopedia of Country Music. ed. Paul Kingsbury. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 585.
Brennan, Sandra. “Grayson and Whitter.” All Music Guide. June 9, 2004. www.allmusic.com.
Bush, John. “Henry Whitter.” All Music Guide. June 9, 2004. www.allmusic.com.