ELTON BRITT (By Kevin Carey)
Born James Elton Baker, 27 June 1913, Zack, Arkansas
As is often the case, various alternative dates have been given for the date of birth - 13th June and 7th July both being quoted. Britt's tombstone shows the date June 27th. Similarly, Britt's real name has been quoted variously as 'James Elton Baker' and 'James Britt-Baker' in different publications. It seems likely that the former was his real name, and he assumed his mother's maiden name for his later stage persona. Britt's parents were both musically talented; his father was a champion fiddle player while his mother was a noted singer, so it was no surprise that their son should seek to follow the same career and by the age of 12 Britt had already learned to play guitar and was regularly featuring in his parents stage act. Joining 'The Beverly Hillbillies' as lead vocalist during his teenage years, Elton would appear in the 1933 (released) film 'The Last Dogie' although by the time this movie was released the band had folded and Britt took on more solo appearances. In later years, the members of 'The Beverly Hillbillies' successfully sued the popular TV programme of the same name for copyright infringement. Having moved to New York in 1936, Britt entered a yodelling competition organised by "Cowboy" star Tom Mix and, against stiff competition, came out victorious; the victory would earn him the unofficial title of The World Champion Yodeller. Following a stint recording for ARC, Britt signed for RCA-Victor in 1937, but had to wait until 1942 before he became the first country music singer to score a million-seller with his patriotic hit 'There's A Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere' (a song he would later be invited to perform at the White House). Further recordings failed to match the success of 'Star Spangled Banner', although his 1946 recording of 'Someday (You'll Want Me To Love You)' peaked at number two. Personally, and not surprisingly, I prefer the Gene Vincent version of this track, but it seems quite likely that Gene's version was inspired by Britt's recording. Later recordings also saw him performing solo and duet with Rosalie Allen as 'The King and Queen of Yodelling'. Britt appeared briefly in two further "cowboy" films in 1949 (Laramie and The Prodigal Son). Continuing to record with RCA-Victor throughout the 1950's, this period also saw him appearing regularly at The Grand Ol' Opry, while he also enjoyed popularity hosting several radio shows consecutively, but by the late 50's his recorded output had slowed considerably and 1960 saw a further distraction as he unsuccessfully ran for Presidential nomination.
Britt drifted in and out of the music business throughout the 60's, recording for RCA and later for Decca, ABC-Paramount and Ampar, but also backing other artists and started his own music publishing business. His last solo hit came in 1968 with 'The Jimmie Rodgers Blues'. Elton Britt suffered a fatal heart attack on June 22nd 1972 and while his historical position in country music is often noted, much of his recorded work has not been re-issued.
Recommended listening: Elton Britt - The RCA Years (Collectors Choice 31) Highly recommended! Elton Britt - Riding With Elton (Soundies 4121)
I believe there is also a CD on the Cattle label, but I haven't seen the track listing so cannot comment on it. Sadly, neither of the CD's shown above feature Britt's 'St James Avenue' - a yodelling derivative of 'St James Infirmary' which I rate as his finest recording (and for DJ's - it makes a nice alternative stroller!)
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