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Ernest Thompson

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Ernest Thompson (1892 – 1961) was not well known and his career lasted but five short years, his repertoire included some important songs that would become country standards largely through his April 1924 recording session.
Thompson, who lived in Winston-Salem North Carolina, lost his sight at age 18 in a sawmill accident. Although he attended the State School for the Blind and learned skills commonly taught at the time (piano tuning, broom making), he became most interested in developing his musical skills. Becoming a one-man band adept at 26 different instruments, Thompson performed as a street musician and at dances, building a large repertoire of songs.

Discovered by William Parks, the Atlanta representative for Columbia who was looking for talent in the Winston-Salem area, Thompson went to New York along with Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis. On April 25 and April 26 in 1924 he recorded the songs he would be remembered for, most notably “Are You From Dixie?” which became a country standard and is characterized by Thompson’s high-pitched singing. Thompson was paid $100 per week plus expenses and was promised a return engagement.

“Are you from Dixie?” a Tin-Pan Alley song by Yellen and Cobb in 1915, was a typical example of the songs Columbia was looking. To promote his records Columbia claimed, “Mr. Thompson has entered 43 contests and had to be satisfied with forty-two first prizes and one second prize. In the latter the winner was a lady who was related to one of the judges. Mr. Thompson has played for ex-Presidents Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson and a host of other National celebrities. ”

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