Marion Try Slaughter (April 6, 1883 - September 14, 1948), better known by his stage name Vernon Dalhart, was a country music singer and songwriter. He recorded the first country song to sell one million copies.
Dalhart was born in Jefferson, Texas on April 6, 1883. He took his stage name from two towns, Vernon and Dalhart in Texas, between which he punched cattle as a teenager in the 1890s. Dalhart's father, Robert Marion Slaughter, was killed by his brother-in-law, Bob Castleberry, when Vernon was age 10. When Dalhart was 12 or 13, the family moved from Jefferson to Dallas, Texas.
He sang and played harmonica and jaw harp at local community events and attended the Dallas Conservatory of Music. He married Sadie Lee Moore-Livingston in 1901 and had two children, a son and a daughter. In 1910, he moved the family to New York City, where he worked in a piano warehouse and took occasional singing jobs.
Dalhart's education was rooted in classical music. He wanted to be an opera singer, and in 1913 he got parts in Madame Butterfly and H.M.S. Pinafore. He saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for singers and applied. He was auditioned by Thomas Alva Edison and went on to record for Edison Records. From 1916 until 1923, he made over 400 recordings of light classical music and early dance band vocals for various record labels.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he sang on more than 5000 singles (78s) for many labels, employing more than 100 pseudonyms, such as Al Craver, Vernon Dale, Frank Evans, Hugh Lattimer, Sid Turner, George White (with original Memphis Five) and Bob White. On Grey Gull Records, he often used the name "Vel Veteran", which was also used by other singers, including Arthur Fields. He was already an established singer when he made his first country music recordings.
To some, Dalhart's Southern accent sounded artificial. In a 1918 interview, Dalhart said, "When you are born and brought up in the South your only trouble is to talk any other way...the 'sure 'nough Southerner' talks almost like a Negro, even when he's white. I've broken myself of the habit, more or less, in ordinary conversation, but it still comes pretty easy."
Dalhart had a hit single with his 1924 recording of "The Wreck of the Old 97", a classic American ballad about the derailment of Fast Mail train No. 97 near Danville, Virginia in 1903. Recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company, the song alerted the national record companies to the existence of a sizable market for country-music vocals. It became the first Southern song to become a national success. With "The Prisoner's Song" as the b-side, the single eventually sold as many as seven million copies, a huge number for recording in the 1920s. It was awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and was the biggest-selling, non-holiday record in the first 70 years of recorded music. Joel Whitburn, a statistician for Billboard magazine, determined that "The Prisoner's Song" was No. 1 hit for twelve weeks in 1925-26.
Wanting to repeat the success of the single, the Victor Company sent Ralph Peer to the southern mountains in 1927 to facilitate the Bristol Sessions. These sessions led to the discovery of singer Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, after which Peer's royalty model would become the standard of the music industry.