Carter Family

From Academic Kids

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Maybelle, A.P. and Sara

The Carter Family was a rural country music group that performed between 1927 and 1943. Their music had a profound impact on later bluegrass, country, "pop", and rock musicians, as well as the U.S. folk revival of the 1960s.

The original group was a trio comprised of Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter (A.P.; 1891-1960), his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter (autoharp and guitar; 1898-1979), and Maybelle Carter (guitar; 1909-1978). Maybelle was married to A.P.'s brother Ezra (Eck) Carter. All three were born and raised in southwestern Virginia where they were immersed in the tight harmonies of mountain gospel music and shape note singing. Maybelle's distinctive and innovative guitar playing style quickly became a hallmark of the group.

The Carters got their start on July 31, 1927 when A.P. convinced Sara and Maybelle (pregnant at the time) to make the journey from Maces Springs, Virginia to Bristol, Tennessee to audition for record producer Ralph Peer who was seeking new talent for the relatively embryonic recording industry. They received $50 for each song they recorded.

In the Fall of 1927 the Victor recording company released a double-sided 78 rpm record of the group performing "Wandering Boy" and "Poor Orphan Child". In 1928 another record was released with "The Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Single Girl, Married Girl". This one proved very popular.

On May 27, 1928, Peer had the group travel to Camden, New Jersey where they recorded many of what would become their signature songs, including:

  • "Meet me by the Moonlight Alone"
  • "Keep on the Sunny Side"
  • "Little Darling, Pal of Mine"
  • "Forsaken Love"
  • "Anchored in Love"
  • "I Ain't Goin' to Work Tomorrow"
  • "Will You Miss Me when I'm Gone"
  • "Wildwood Flower"
  • "River of Jordan"
  • "Chewing Gum"
  • "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man"

The group realized $600 for this effort and left with a contract that assured a small royalty for sales of their records and sheet music. "Wildwood Flower" in both vocal and instrumental forms has endured as a signature tune for traditional country and bluegrass artists.

During a February 1929 recording session they memorialized:

  • "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes"
  • "My Clinch Mountain Home"
  • "Sweet Fern"
  • "Grave on the Green Hillside"
  • "Little Moses"
  • "Don't Forget This Song"
  • "Engine 143"

By the end of 1930 they had sold 300,000 records nationally.

Realizing that he would benefit financially with each new song he collected and copyrighted, A.P. travelled around the southwestern Virginia area in search of new songs. In the early 1930s, he befriended Lesley (Esley) Riddle, a black guitar player from Kingsport. Esley accompanied A.P. on his song collecting trips. Riddle's blues guitar playing style influenced the Carters, especially Maybelle who learned new guitar techniques from watching him play.

In June, 1931, the Carters did a recording session in Nashville, Tennessee along with country legend, Jimmie Rodgers.

In the winter of 1938-1939, the Carter Family travelled to Texas, where they had a twice-daily program on border radio station XERA (later XERF) in Villa Acuña (now Ciudad Acuña), Mexico, across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Beginning with the 1939/1940 season, June Carter joined the group, this time in San Antonio, Texas, where the programs were pre-recorded and distributed to multiple border radio stations (XELO, XEG, XERB, and XEPN).

In Fall, 1942, the Carters moved their program to WBT radio in Charlotte, North Carolina for a one-year contract. They occupied the sunrise slot with the program airing between 5:15 and 6:15 a.m.

Throughout their time together, the Carter Family also appeared in many live performances, often in local schools and churches.

In 1943, the group disbanded after Sara moved permanently to California.

Maybelle continued to perform with her daughters Anita, June, and Helen as "Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters" into the 1960s. A.P., Sara, and their children--Joe and Jeanette--recorded some material in the 1950s.

During the 1960s, revivalist folksingers performed much of the material the Carters had collected or written. For example, on her early Vanguard albums, folk performer Joan Baez sang: "Wildwood Flower", "Little Moses", "Engine 143", "Little Darling, Pal of Mine", and "Gospel Ship".

As important to country music as the family's repertoire of songs was Maybelle's guitar playing. She did not invent what is widely known today as the "Carter style" of flatpicking. Before their recordings, the guitar was rarely used as a lead or solo instrument. The interweaving of a melodic line on the bass strings with intermittent strums is now a staple of steel string guitar technique. Flatpickers such as Doc Watson, Clarence White and Norman Blake (American musician) took flatpicking to a higher technical level, but all acknowledge the foundation in Maybelle's playing.

They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 and they were given the nickname "The First Family of Country Music." In 1988, the Carter Family was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and received its Award for the song "Can the Circle Be Unbroken".

In 1993, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring A.P., Sara, and Maybelle.

In 2001, the group was in inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor.

External links

Country Music's First Family (
Songs of the Carter Family (
Rhythmic Asymmetry in the Music of the Carter family (
The Carter Family (
The Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc. (
Song texts of the original Carter Family (
Native Ground Music article (


  • Among my klediments, June Carter Cash, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1979. ASIN 0310381703, ISBN 0-310-38170-3
  • In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music, Nicholas Dawidoff, Vintage Books, 1998. ISBN 0-375-70082-x
  • Will you miss me when I'm gone? : the Carter Family and their legacy in American music, Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2002de:The Carter Family

nl:Carter Family


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