Ernest "Pop" Stoneman was one of the first, and most popular, early country artists. He was born in Carroll Country, Virginia and raised by his father and three cousins, who taught him traditional Blue Ridge Mountain songs. He married as a young man and, when not working various odd jobs, played music for friends and neighbors. After hearing a Henry Whitter record and swearing he could do better, in 1924 he set off to New York to get a recording contract and prove it. His first single, "The Sinking of the Titanic," came out on the Okeh label later that year and became one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. At first he was accompanied only by his autoharp (his best-known instrument) and harmonica, but later switched to guitar; Stoneman was also adept at playing the Jew's harp and the clawhammer banjo. In 1926, he surrounded himself with a full string band, mostly composed of relatives and neighbors. His career reached its peak in 1927, when he became the top country artist at Victor and led the Bristol sessions, which helped the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers gain renown. Stoneman continued to record through 1929, setting down over 200 songs.