Long Lost Highlights from the Missouri 78 RPM Archive: Listen Here

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Vernon Dalhart, looking very country.
The Missouri 78 RPM Archive contains the largest collection anywhere of the works of Vernon Dalhart. And who is Vernon Dalhart, you may ask? If Tussey and Carell have their way, this will become a question as ridiculous as "Who was Hank Williams." But for now: Vernon Dalhart was the first country-western recording star. His 1927 recording of "The Wreck of the Old 97" (flip side: "The Prisoner's Song") was the genre's first million-seller.

Dalhart started off as a performer of light opera and parlor songs, and the vocal mannerisms from that more formal style sometimes overwhelm his country-western twang, as in this 1927 rendition of "A Home on the Range." This made his detractors (some of whom refer to him as "VD") doubt his authenticity. But you can rest assured: Dalhart, before he moved to New York to seek fame and fortune as a recording artist, was an actual Texan.

The introduction of radio in 1922 nearly killed the record industry. For one thing, radio was free (well, as long as you had a radio). For another, radio sounded better because it used electronic equipment to amplify voices instead of relying on singers and musicians to belt out their stuff, as records did. But the record companies recovered. They stole radio's amplification methods (notice how much better Dalhart and the Raspberry King sound than George M. Cohan?) and then radio stars, too, such as Cliff Carlisle who yodeled on the air in his native Kentucky and got himself a record deal. Here's his "Virginia Blues," recorded three years after Dalhart's "A Home on the Range." It sounds a lot more like the sort of country record we twenty-first century folk know.

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