Peter Dawson

I've always thought of Peter Dawson (1882-1961) as a model singer.  His voice had range, burnished beauty, and impeccable diction. At one time considered 'the most popular baritone in the world', Dawson was the subject of a biography which used this appellation, all the more fitting considering he sold more records than any of his contemporaries. However, Dawson's world - where Bing Crosby was a young upstart and WWII a decade away - is rapidly receding from living memory. Do baritones in their 20's even know he existed? If not, they should. He has a lot to teach them. 

A student of the great Victorian baritone Charles Santley, himself a student of Manuel Garcia and Gaetano Nava, Dawson's unforced beauty of voice was captured by the new technology of the gramophone. He recorded prolifically, making more than 1500 titles between 1904 and 1958. 

Peter Dawson c. 1904

A native of Australia, Dawson's voice extended from low E to high A, enabling him to record a vast amount of repertoire. As such, he was the first singer to popularize Australian song for which he became famous. Songs like On the Road to Mandalay and Waltzing Matilda became bona fide hits. Other recordings like O Ruddier than the Cherry, Honour and Arms and Oh My Warriors reveal his bel canto training: rock solid coloratura, soaring high notes, clarity of vowel, and depth of tone. Simply listening to how Dawson navigates into the upper register is an education.

This kind of singing takes time and effort in order to create and sustain it over the long haul. And Dawson seems to have done just that.


The Smith & Burgis biography is well done and contains extensive information, including Dawson's discography as well as the curious fact that he learned to sing in the upper 5th of his voice from a 'Professor Kantorez,' a Russian singing teacher in London. 

Now there's a person I am curious to find out more about.