During the first half of the 20th century a mania for yodeling seized America, catapulting its greatest practitioners to national celebrity. Though yodelers once numbered among America’s best-known vocalists, their names have faded from public memory with the exception of Jimmie Rodgers and a few movie cowboys.
While the Arkansas native Elton Britt was billed as “The World’s Highest Yodeler”—his stardom was such that he performed at the White House for Franklin Roosevelt, and then ran for president himself in 1960—neither he nor any other vocalist of the period approached the range of sounds coaxed from the human voice by two girls from a farm just outside Royalton, Minnesota.
Among the first female country singers to appear on stage without husbands or fathers, The DeZurik Sisters (Mary Jane and Caroline, with Lorraine later replacing Mary Jane) always appeared as a duet, amazing audiences with their rapid, high-pitched yodels that often spiraled into animal sounds. In fact, so convincing were their chicken yodels that the act was renamed The Cackle Sisters when they joined the Ralston Purina Company’s Checkerboard time radio program as regulars from 1937 to 1941.
This according to “The DeZurik Sisters: Two farm girls who yodeled their way to the Grand Ole Opry” by John Biguenet (Oxford American, summer 2005; reprinted in Da Capo best music writing 2006, pp. 92–99) Below, a rare video of Caroline and Lorraine.
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