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Elton Britt
Born:  June 27, 1913
Died:  June 22, 1972
America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame (2005)
Western Music Association Hall of Fame (1990)
KWKH Louisiana Hayride
WATV Garden State Jamboree
WCOP Hayloft Jamboree
WWVA Original Jamboree
KMPC Los Angeles, CA
WAAT Jersey City, NJ
WMCA New York, NY
WNEW New York, NY
WOR New York, NY

Elton Britt article courtesy of W. K. McNeil and Louis Hatchett.

For someone who had a such long career as a country music artist, not much accurate information is really known about Elton Britt. This is by his own choice. He was a very private person offstage, and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. Once he stepped offstage, his charisma vanished, and he reverted to that of a quite normal human being. As someone who got to know him once said, "He could have been a bus driver."

Elton Britt was born June 27, 1913, the youngest child of James M. and Martella Baker, in Zack, a tiny community nine miles from Marshall, Arkansas. A sickly child, he wasn't expected to live; as a result, he wasn't named until he was over a year old. His parents eventually named him James, after his father, and Elton, in honor of Dr. Elton Wilson who managed to keep him alive during his first year of life. Elton was what is now known as a "blue baby" and was plagued with heart trouble all his life. Because of his condition, he was pampered by his parents, who may or may not have given him the nickname "Cute," by which he was generally known during his early years.

The Bakers were a musical family, so it is hardly surprising that young Elton also acquired a love of music. He first started playing guitar at age ten with a $4.95 instrument purchased through the mail from Montgomery Ward. Later he was greatly impressed by the records of Jimmie Rodgers, which inspired him to learn how to yodel. Eventually, he became renowned for his ability to sustain his yodel for an unusually long time. This skill, enabled by the perfection of breath control, he reportedly learned while swimming underwater for several minutes at a time.

Elton's chance for stardom came in the summer of 1930 when he was hired to replace young Hugh Ashley (who had performed under the name of Hobart Walton) in the Beverly Hill Billies, a popular group who broadcast almost daily from KMPC. What was intended as a six-week stay in Los Angeles turned out to be the first step in a career that lasted for 42 years. It was during his stay with the Hill Billies that Elton acquired the name Britt, a surname which sprang from the mind of Glen Rice, an employee with the McMillan Oil Company, which owned KMPC, after he concluded that James Baker didn't sound hillbilly enough.

During his tenure with the band he also entered into the first of his four marriages. His first wife, Margaret Scott, whom he wed in February 1934, was a fifteen-year-old relative of his brother Vernon's wife. A year later, in September 1934, Margaret was killed in an automobile accident in Cleveland, Oklahoma. In 1935 Britt married Jeannie Russell, a Canadian citizen, who died two days after the birth of their second child on June 9, 1937. His third wife, Penny, was a long-time Britt fan whom he wed in 1942. Their marriage lasted almost sixteen years. In 1958 he wed Janet Counts, a woman twenty-five years his junior. Their marriage was dissolved a couple of years before Britt's death. Elton had children by each wife, except the first, but none followed him into the world of music.

During the first half of the 1930s the Beverly Hill Billies made a number of 78s and Britt may have been on some of them, but it is impossible to determine on which ones he appeared. His first documented recordings were in August 1933 for the Conqueror label as part of a group called the Wenatchee Mountaineers. In June 1934 Britt's first significant recording, and what became a signature song, "Chime Bells," was made with his brother, Vernon. He released versions of this number a second time in 1939 and in 1948, the latter making its way onto the Billboard charts.

Elton Britt with Mary Lynne In 1937 Britt signed with RCA Victor, a label on which he remained until 1956. During this time he had several hit records, including "Someday" (1944) "Detour" (1946) "Candy Kisses" (1949) and "Quicksilver" (1950). But without question, his biggest hit was "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" (1942). Estimates of its sales range from just over a million to four million. Possibly both figures are correct with the former number reflecting sales during the record's initial period of popularity and the latter number likely reflecting total sales over the many years it remained in the catalog.

Aside from his recordings, Britt had an interesting career. He appeared in at least two movies--and maybe three. His first screen appearance was a cameo in the James Melton western short The Last Dogie (1933), which was released while he was still with the Beverly Hill Billies; it did not, however, do anything to advance his career. Neither did a featured appearance years later in Columbia's Laramie (1949), a Charles Starrett western. Britt may have appeared in The Prodigal Son (1949) for Universal but no evidence has surfaced to indicate it was ever made.

During the 1950s Britt made a habit of retiring and unretiring. During one of his frequent breaks from show business, he mined uranium in the West. In 1960 he retired once again, this time to wage an unsuccessful campaign for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket, an effort that was widely seen as a publicity stunt masterminded by Aubrey Mayhew, his sometimes manager. He then returned to entertaining and in 1968 had his last major hit with a seven-minute yodeling song, "The Jimmie Rodgers Blues." On June 22, 1972 Britt suffered a heart attack while driving his car and died in a McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania hospital the next day. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Broad Top, Pennsylvania. A monument listing many of his hit songs was later erected over his grave.

Additional information about Elton Britt from the Hillbilly-Music.com archives and elsewhere:

We've discovered in our web surfing that through the efforts of The Elton Britt Fan Club, the Native NY Historical Society has made his residence, 6-03 Parsons Boulevard, the only official Landmark House in Malba, New York.
http://www.malba.org/residents.htm

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank W. K. McNeil and Louis Hatchett for providing the biographical notes on Elton Britt.
  • Elton Britt's Collection of Famous Recorded Songs; 1943; Bob Miller, Inc.; 1619 Broadway, New York, NY
  • National Jamboree; October 1949; Words to Songs, Inc.; 1 East 42nd Street, New York 17, NY

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There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere

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Recordings
 
ABC
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  10819 A It Just Happened That Way
 
Bluebird
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  33-0517 A I'm A Convict With Old Glory In My Heart
  33-0517 B The Best Part Of Travel
  33-0521 A Weep No More, My Darling
  33-0521 B Someday
  33-0538 A I'm All That's Left Of That Old Quartette
  33-0538 B Ridin' With My Gal
  8511 A Goodbye, Little Darling, Goodbye
  8511 B I'll Never Smile Again
  8523 A Sierra Sue
  8523 B Darling What Do You Care
  8666 A New Worried Mind
  8666 B Precious Jewel
  8701 A I'll Die Before I Tell You
  8701 B There's So Much That I Forgot
  8777 A I've Loved Much Too Much
  8777 B Too Many Tears
  8818 A Everybody Has The Right To Be Screwy
  8818 B Rocky Mountain Lullaby
  8912 A Will You Wait For Me
  8912 B I'll Be In The Army For Awhile
  B-9000 A When The Roses Bloom Again
  B-9000 B There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere
 
Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  8426 A Just Because You're In Deep Elem
  8426 B Chime Bells
  8427 A They're Burining Down The House
  8427 B Patent Leather Boots
  8428 A Two More Years
  8428 B Driftwood On The River
  8429 A Missouri Joe
  8429 B Mistook In The Woman I Loved
  8683 A Why Did You Leave Me Alone
  8683 B Over The Trail
  8684 A Dreamy Land Bay
  8684 B They're Positively Wrong
 
RCA Victor
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  20-1789 A Wave To Me, My Lady
  20-1789 B Blueberry Lane
  20-1817 A Detour
  20-1817 B Make Room In Your Heart For A Friend
  20-1864 A Someday
  20-1864 B The Best Part Of Travel
  20-1873 A Blue Texas Moonlight
  20-1873 B Thank Heaven For You
  20-1927 A Rogue River Valley
  20-1927 B Gotta Get Together With My Gal
  20-2027 A I Get The Blues When It Rains
  20-2027 B Too Tired To Care
  20-2131 A I Hung My Head And Lied
  20-2131 B There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere
  20-2145 A Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
  20-2145 B I'd Trade All Of My Tomorrows (For Just One Yesterday)
  20-2367 A After We Said Goodbye
  20-2367 B Castle In The Apple Tree
  20-2501 A I'm Tying The Leaves So They Won't Come Down
  20-2501 B I've Lived A Lifetime For You
  20-2595 A Roses Have Thorns
  20-2595 B Who Else?
  20-2772 A Born To Lose
  20-2772 B Peace Of Mind
  20-2801 A Just Because You're In Deep Elem
  20-2801 B Weep No More, My Darlin'
  20-2952 A Will The Angles Let Me Play
  20-2952 B I Never Knew What It Meant To Be Lonely
  20-3091 A Put My Little Shoes Away
  20-3091 B The Precious Jewel
  20-3092 A She Taught Me To Yodel
  20-3092 B They're Burning Down The House
  20-3093 A Patent Leather Shoes
  20-3093 B There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere
  20-3162 A Anyone
  20-3162 B My Mother's Picture
  20-3306 A Don't Bring Your Blues To Me
  20-3306 B Rose Of Yesterday
  20-3583 A Close Your Eyes And Dream
  20-4324 A Kiss By Kiss
  20-4324 B The Tale A Sailor Told
  20-4472 A Jackass Blues
  20-4472 B Summer Kisses
  20-4531 A The Little Boy I Knew
  20-4531 B Don't Ever Be Afraid To Go Home
  20-4532 A The Blacksmith Blues
  20-4532 B Five Glasses On A Texas Bar
  20-4630 A Fooling Around
  20-4630 B I May Hate You
  20-4694 A A Red Red Rose
  20-4694 B One Drink Makes Me Happy
  20-4752 A Fiddlin' Fool
  20-4786 A God's Little Candles
  20-4786 B I'm Gonna Walk And Talk With My Lord
  20-4833 A One For The Wonder
  20-4833 B The Rovin' Gambler
  20-4988 A Merry Texas Christmas
  20-5140 A Korean Mud
  20-5140 B The Unknown Soldier
  20-5178 A Home Came A Sailor
  20-5251 A Cannball Yodel
  20-5251 B Broken Wings
  20-5322 A Just For You
  20-5402 A I Feel The Blues Coming On
  20-5402 B Maybe I Was Wrong
  20-5509 A My Heart Was Made For You
  20-5509 B That's How The Yodel Was Born
  20-5620 A If You Should Change Your Mind
  20-5620 B Sweet Leilani
  20-5640 A Blue Guitar
  20-5640 B Nuevo Laredo
  20-5795 A One Way Ticket
  20-5795 B Traveling Arbutus
  20-5868 A The Singing Hills
  20-5868 B To You Sweetheart, Aloha
  20-5937 A Goodnight Mrs Jones
  20-5937 B It Hurts Me To My Heart
  20-5996 A St. Louis Blues Yodel
  20-5996 B Skater's Yodel
  20-6093 A Absent Minded Heart
  20-6093 B I Almost Lost My Mind
  20-6232 A Alpine Milkman
  20-6232 B Shame
  20-6325 A St James Avenue
  20-6325 B Uranium Fever
  20-6429 A Lonesome River
  20-6429 B One Lie, Two Loves
  202269 A Candlelight And Roses
  202269 B I Wish You The Best Of Everything
  21-0056 A Lorelie
  21-0056 B Rainbow In My Heart
  21-0157 A The Yodel Blues
  21-0157 B Quicksilver
  21-0473 A Lonely Little Robin (w/Beaver Valley Sweethearts)
  21-0473 B Lookin' Around (w/Beaver Valley Sweethearts)
  210006 A Candy Kisses
  210006 B You'll Be Sorry From Now On
  210122 A Driftwood On The River
  210122 B Tears From The Sky
  210157 A The Yodel Blues
  210157 B Quicksilver
  47-5937 A It Hurts Me To My Heart
  47-5937 B Goodnight Mrs. Jones
 
Sparton
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  859 A Lost Highway
  859 B The Convict And The Rose


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