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Australian Peter Dawson held a prominent place in the music-loving public's heart in the 1920s and 1930s that was equivalent to the fame garnered by later artists such as the Beatles, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra. Forget "the King" or "the Chairman of the Board"; Dawson, a bass baritone, was the emperor of his day's recording industry. In his era, quite possibly he surpassed the latter-day crooners' popularity. Certainly the singer with a two-octave range was wildly successful, but sources disagree over the total number of recordings sold over the course of Dawson's career, with some citing 25 million copies and another quoting a figure of 13 million. Sources also differ regarding the total number of recordings the singer made, with some saying the number was almost 2,000, and another placing the total at about 1,000 more. Either figure, however, is astonishing for a recording industry that was in its infancy.
Dawson's first recording was made in 1904, when his performances were caught on wax cylinders first introduced by Thomas Edison. He wrapped up his recording career in 1958 with vinyl LPs. Two of the recording houses that put out his releases were EMI and HMV. His popularity was such that 23 years after he passed away in 1961, he was listed in the Guinness Book of Recorded Sound's Hall of Fame. In addition to recording both classical and popular music, such as Handel's arias, Tchaikovsky's "Don Juan's Serenade," the "Erl King" from Schubert, "Waltzing Matilda," "The Floral Dance," "When the Sergeant-Major's on Parade," and a host of ballads, he performed on the BBC and frequently on concert stages. A biography, Peter Dawson: The World's Most Popular Baritone, was written by Peter Burgis and Russell Smith.