Biography

Henry Whitter (born April 6, 1892 near Fries, Grayson County, Virginia - died November 17, 1941 Morganton, North Carolina) was an early old-time recording artist, firstly as a solo singer, guitarist and harmonica player, and later in partnership with the fiddler G. B. Grayson (Grayson & Whitter).

Whitter learned to play the guitar from an early age, and later on, the fiddle, banjo, harmonica and piano. His love of music made him dream of a career as an artist and he spent much time listening to cylinder recordings of Uncle Josh. He found work in a cotton mill called “Fries Washington Mill”, but through the years 1923-1926 he frequently took time off to record. He claimed that his first session was in March 1923 in New York City for Okeh Records, which would have made him the first truly country singer to record, a few months before Fiddlin’ John Carson. However, this claim is not supported by the Okeh files. What is certain is that Whitter did record for Okeh from December 1923 to 1926.
In his first session, he recorded nine songs, including “Wreck On the Southern Old 97” coupled with “Lonesome Road Blues”. The recording was released in January 1924 and was quite successful. The light opera singer and country musician Vernon Dalhart heard “Wreck On the Southern Old 97” and decided to record it. (That particular recording coupled with “The Prisoner’s Song”, went on to become the first million-selling record in country music in 1924.) Other songs in Whitter’s repertoire would become standards, such as The New River Train and Put My Little Shoes Away. He was the first to record the harmonica tunes Lost John and Fox Chase. He also recorded cover versions of hits by other performer’s such as Uncle Dave Macon’s Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy and Kelly Harrell’s I Wish I Was Single Again. Although a limited musician, he supplied what record-buyers wanted and sold very well. However, by 1926 there were more skilled musicians in the market, which may explain why Okeh ceased to record Whitter.
In 1927 he recorded for Victor Records at the famous Bristol Sessions, and a later field recording in Memphis, Tennessee. Also in 1927, Whitter met the blind fiddler G. B. Grayson (1887-1930) at a fiddlers’ convention in Mountain City, Tennessee. Together they formed the successful duo Grayson & Whitter, recording for Gennett Records and Victor. Their output included songs that later became bluegrass standards such as Banks of the Ohio, Nine Pound Hammer, Handsome Molly and Little Maggie. Grayson died in an automobile accident outside Damascus, Virginia in 1930. Whitter did not record again. Whitter died of diabetes in Morgantoen, NC in 1941.

Edited by midlifefanclub on 6 Apr 2013, 08:06

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