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Ernest Thompson playing Wreck of the Southern Old 97

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , ,

Wreck of the Old 97 was country music’s first great hits when it was recorded by classically trained former light opera singer Vernon Dalhart (nee Marion Try Slaughter) in 1924. The song had already been recorded by Henry Whitter in 1923, and Thompson’s recording actually predates Dalhart’s by a few weeks.

The song was in the style of the old broadside ballads, and set to the tune of ‘The Ship that Never Returned’. Authorship of the ballad (and entitlement to the substantial royalties generated by a million-plus selling record) was bitterly disputed in a case that eventually found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wreck of the Old 97 was based on the events of September 27, 1903, when a speeding mail train crashed off a train trestle near Danville, Virginia, killing 9 (some sources say 11).

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