Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

The Delmore Brothers

To the casual fan, the Delmore Brothers might be seen as just another duet act from the 1930s, along with the Callahan Brothers, the Monroe Brothers, the Shelton Brothers, the Rice Brothers, or the Bolick Brothers (the Blue Sky Boys). But the Delmores were far more than just another duet act: They were one of the first of these acts, and they retained their popularity longer than any of the others. They sang original songs, and sang them in such a unique musical style that they influenced generations of country and bluegrass performers. Today they are seen as a vital transitional group in country music development; they link the blues, ragtime, and shape-note sacred singing of the rural nineteenth-century South with the polished, complex, media-oriented styles of the 1930s and ’40s. The Delmores are also transitional in another sense, for they were among the first country acts to appeal to a wider audience—they enjoyed two of the first “crossover” hits with “Beautiful Brown Eyes” and “There’s More Pretty Girls Than One.” In their singing you can hear echoes of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, to be sure; but you can also hear touches of Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys, the early Mills Brothers, and even the Boswell Sisters. The Delmores were wide-ranging in their own musical taste, and their broad-minded creativity helped expand the definition of country music for millions of listeners.

Though much of the Delmores’ success came from their own innate skill and drive, part of it also derived from their being in the right place at the right time. In the 1920s it was necessary for the Carter Family or Riley Puckett to generate volume enough to be heard under rather primitive staging conditions, but by 1930 radio had made it possible to sing softly and still be heard. The first generation of country music stars—Rodgers, the Carters, the Skillet Lickers—could not depend on radio to establish their reputations; in many cases their artistic style was not suited to the new radio medium. But the second gen-

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