Vernon Dalhart came to country music from outside the tradition, becoming a national star in the years just before more indigenous kinds of country music found their place in the machinery of the music industry. A 1924 recording by Dalhart became country music's first million-selling record; pairing a train song ("Wreck of the Old 97") with a sentimental ballad ("The Prisoner's Song"), the release set patterns for two key genres of early country music on record. Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter in Jefferson, TX; the stage name Vernon Dalhart, like Conway Twitty, was a combination of the names of two Texas towns. Dalhart's grandfather was a rancher, a former Confederate soldier who became a member of the Ku Klux Klan; he was killed in a knife fight while Dalhart was a boy. Though Dalhart's classical-music background is often emphasized in accounts of his life, he did actually work for a time as a cowboy while in his teens. Dalhart sang at community gatherings, where he also played the harmonica and the jew's harp. He studied music at the Dallas Conservatory, married, and moved to New York in 1910. Dreaming of an operatic career, he worked in a music store and earned extra cash singing for funerals. He appeared in his first opera two years later and in 1913 appeared in Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Light opera and operetta remained his specialties.