Carter, Maybelle (1909–1978)
Carter, Maybelle (1909–1978)
Carter, Maybelle (1909–1978)
American guitarist, autoharp player, and singer from southwestern Virginia who—with the Carter Family, the Carter Sisters, and as a solo performer—popularized country and folk music over a 50-year career. Name variations: (nicknamed) Mother Maybelle, Queen Mother of Country Music, and Queen of the Autoharp. Born Maybelle Addington in Nickelsville, Virginia, on May 10, 1909; died on October 23, 1978; one of ten children of Margaret Addington; married Ezra J. Carter, March 13, 1926; children: Helen Myrl (b. September 12, 1927); Valerie June (known as June Carter Cash, b. June 23, 1929); Ina Anita (known as Anita Carter, b. March 31, 1933; d. July 29, 1999).
The Best of the Carter Family (Columbia CS-9119); Carter Family Album (Liberty 7230); Country's First Family (Columbia KC-34266); 50 Years of Country Music (Camden ACL-2-0782); Happiest Days of All (Camden ACL-1-0501); Lonesome Pine Special (Camden 2473); Mid the Green Fields of Virginia (Victor ANL 1-1107); More Golden Gems from the Carter Family (Camden 11554); Mother Maybelle Carter (Columbia CG-32436); My Old Cottage Home (Camden ACL-1-0047); Original and Great Carter Family (Camden 586); Precious Memories (Camden X-9020); Stars of the Grand Ole Opry (Victor CPL-2-0466); Three Generations (Columbia KC-33084); World's Favorite Hymns (Columbia C-32246); Jimmie Rodgers Visits the Carter Family (Victor 23574). Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1970).
August 1–4, 1927, was dubbed by Billboard: "Four days that shook the country music world." During this time, two separate recording sessions were held in a studio in Bristol, southwestern Virginia. Both sessions featured unknowns: the Carter family—comprised of Sarah Carter , her husband A.P. and her younger cousin Maybelle—performed for the first two days; on the third, a frail youth named Jimmie Rodgers stepped up to the mike.
On August 3, the Carter Family drove home from Bristol in a borrowed Model T. It took most of the day and three tire patches to travel across the 26 miles of rolling hills and mountains, back to Maces Springs, a rural village in a section of Appalachia known as "Poor Valley." Despite the heat, the group felt good. Maybelle had little idea what to expect, but she thought the sessions went well. Sarah, with three children to care for, was relieved by the payment the work provided. A.P., the group's dreamer, was thrilled with the sessions but could not have predicted their historical significance. So they all "went home and planted corn," recalled Sarah. Maybelle, 18 years old and eight months pregnant, prepared for the arrival of her first child.
Maybelle's ancestral roots could be traced back several generations to early English, Scotch, and Irish settlers. Family legend claims that she was a descendent of William Addington, an aide to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Born May 10, 1909, she was raised in the Nickelsville area of Virginia where her family owned a mill and a general store. "Momma" Margaret Addington led the Fair Oak Methodist Church women's chorus, while blue-eyed Maybelle, one of ten Addington children, sang in church as well as with her sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles. She learned gospel songs, traditional family ballads, and community square-dance melodies.
The youngest, shyest member of the Carter family, Maybelle began to play the autoharp not long after she began to sing. "I have loved music all my life," she would later recall. "I guess I was just born that way. My sister used to play the banjo some, my mother played the banjo and I
Carter, Sarah (1898–1979)
American musician who was lead singer and instrumentalist for the Carter Family. Born Sarah Dougherty in Flat Woods, Virginia, on July 21, 1899; died on January 8, 1979; one of ten orphaned daughters of Elizabeth and Sevier Dougherty; married A.P. (Alvin Pleasant) Carter (a bandleader), on June 18, 1915 (divorced 1933); married Coy Bayes, in 1939; children: (first marriage) Gladys Carter (b. 1919); Jeanette Carter (b. 1923); Joe (b. 1927). Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (October 1970).
After the death of their mother, Sarah Dougherty and her nine siblings were sent to live among various relatives. Young Sarah moved in with her childless Aunt Melinda and Uncle Millburn, who lived in the mountains, 125 miles away from the nearest large city. Her childhood included hard work on the homestead, school in a one-room schoolhouse, singing at church, and living among musicians.
A tall, attractive black-haired teenager, she developed a powerful, high, sometimes masculine sounding, singing voice. Her notes rang with loneliness and regret, echoed by hope and promise. Music teacher Eb Easterland taught Sarah to play the autoharp; eventually, she played the guitar, banjo, and fiddle but never developed a passion for a particular instrument. Instruments would remain primarily a background for her voice. Along with Uncle Millburn, who played the fiddle and sang, and his friend Ap Harris, Sarah began to sing for small gatherings. She also played and performed with her cousin Madge Addington , and eventually with Madge's younger sister Maybelle Carter .
It's said that Sarah's future husband Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter first heard Sarah when she was 15 singing the mournful railroad disaster ballad "Engine 143" on her aunt's porch. A.P. stopped to visit while making his rounds selling fruit trees, and, when he joined in, his baritone voice blended beautifully with Sarah's. They exchanged visits and letters for a year, then married on June 18, 1915, a month before her 17th birthday.
A.P. and Sarah moved to a cabin built on land in Maces Springs, which was given to A.P. by his father. Sarah cultivated a garden and raised goats. Music was naturally woven into their lives as they played for friends, relatives and neighbors. Their first Christmas, the couple sang together at the New Hope Methodist Church.
The Carters' homemade music began to have a special sound, particularly after the talented instrumentalist Maybelle joined the group (Maybelle had become a Carter by marriage to A.P.'s brother Ezra). But day-today life remained difficult, and Sarah delivered her third child at age 27. A.P. worked several jobs but had no reliable income. By the year 1940, family income in their part of Virginia reportedly averaged only $200 per annum. Like most of their neighbors, A.P. and Sarah were poor.
As word spread that a handful of hill musicians from Scott County had made records and as the Carters local popularity began to build, A.P. set his sights on making a living with their music. Sarah sometimes found herself attending to chores while A.P. went out looking for songs, and she remained ambivalent and deeply conflicted about the notion of singing, which she regarded as simple and free, for pay.
Ultimately, Sarah recorded because she needed money. She said that the first $25 check they received was, "more than I would have made if I had taken in the entire town's laundry." Sarah sang with the Carter Family from 1927 to 1943. Although the income made her life easier, her career did not make her happier. In an interview, she named A.P.'s younger sister Sylvia , who watched the kids and handled family problems while the band toured, "the unsung hero of the Carter Family."
As the Family became nationally successful, the demands on the band increased and her marriage disintegrated. After 17 years of marriage, she shocked her family and the community by separating from and then divorcing A.P. For a time, the personal distance saved their professional lives. Sarah continued to live in Cooper Creek with the children, or in separate residences in Texas and North Carolina, as she continued to perform with the band.
In 1938, just prior to leaving for Texas to perform with the Carter Family on border-station radio, Sarah ran into Coy Bayes, an old acquaintance. Coy, a native of Wise County and A.P.'s first cousin, was a big, hardworking electrician, mechanic, and tree farmer who had been successful in the timber business in California. Sarah and Coy corresponded for a year. They became engaged in 1939 and married that winter in Texas.
Sarah sang with the Carter Family until 1943 when the group officially disbanded, then lived privately with Coy in California. She came out of retirement briefly to play a reunion concert and to tour on the folk circuit with Maybelle for a year in the mid-1960s. Sarah Carter outlived both A.P. and Maybelle. She passed away in 1979, at the age of 81.
Jesse T. Raiford
would pull the autoharp down off the table to the floor and try to play it." An American invention from the 1800s, literally an automatic harp, the autoharp is easy to play and transport and provides a bright background for nearly any style of music. By age 12, Maybelle had taught herself to pick out melodies instead of merely strumming the harp, a revolutionary achievement that gained her modest local fame. Maybelle next mastered the banjo, in a day when female banjo players were rare, and played with her brothers at square dances. Finally, she took up the instrument that would make her famous. Her unique guitar style, which incorporated the famous "Carter lick," was probably adapted from a banjo technique called "frailing." "When I was about twelve or thirteen," she recalled, "one of my older brothers gave me a guitar and I started trying to pick it, and came up with my own style, because there weren't many guitar pickers around."
Guitar players generally strum chords fingered across all strings or pick out a melody using individual notes, predominately on the higher sounding strings. Maybelle taught herself to pick out a melody on the bass strings while simultaneously strumming a rhythm on the treble strings. The easy-to-listen-to, hard-to-learn, "Carter lick" continues to influence both bluegrass and folk music and, to a lesser degree, modern country music. Beginning guitarists routinely learn Maybelle's style and struggle to imitate her version of "Wildwood Flower." Upbeat and warm, her musicianship reflected her easygoing personality. Maybelle's techniques, although neither flashy nor complicated, redefined the roles of autoharp and guitar. The best guitarists of her time—Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, Lester Flatt and Doc Watson—considered her to be a "musician's musician."
When her cousin Sarah Dougherty married A.P. Carter, six-year-old Maybelle had danced to the music. Sarah, 11 years older than her cousin, treated Maybelle like a younger sister. As Maybelle's skills increased, the three began to play together. They arranged and performed in their own style: family songs, church songs, parlor tunes, traditional songs, and songs that A.P. wrote or gathered as he traveled for work. Maybelle's musicianship, Sarah's voice, A.P.'s vast repertoire, and the group's ability to harmonize were the elements that would make them famous. Ezra (Eck) Carter, A.P.'s younger brother, reportedly fell in love with six-year-old Maybelle when he first watched her perform at a school. They met again 11 years later, courted for four months, and eloped in 1926.
A.P.'s initial goals for the three Appalachian musicians may have seemed grandiose, but his timing was right. As they built their local reputation, the country was changing. Commercial radio broadcasting started in Pittsburgh in 1920. Back then, musicians played live or recorded live at the station for playback because records would be prohibited on radio until 1948. By 1922, Fort Worth's WBAP and Atlanta's WSB both began to feature fiddle songs. Stations experimented with formats such as the Barn Dance—featuring fiddlers and hillbilly bands—and country music began to reach across the south. In 1925, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, which would become the longest-running radio show in America, copied the barn-dance format.
By the 1920s, records were moderately expensive, but the recording industry had little competition in rural areas. Movies played only in town, radios required electricity, but wind-up Victrolas were available for ten dollars. Electronic advancements permitted record companies to transcribe local talent on location, and the high-volume sales of regional tests startled record executives. As record sales grew, companies sought stars. The person most responsible for the discovery of talent and growth of the industry was RCA Victor talent scout Ralph Peer. Urbane, wealthy and well educated, he had a passion for horticulture and merely a business interest in music. After successfully experimenting with the "Negro" market, he ventured to Atlanta and recorded Fiddlin' John Carson. When Carson's records sold well, Peer began to look for additional talent in the South.
When A.P. heard that Peer was coming to Bristol, he arranged the historic August 1–4 session through record-store owner Cecil McClister. The Carters arrived with A.P. in dirty coveralls and Sarah and Maybelle in faded calico dresses. Peer, though taken back by their appearance, loved their sound. "The moment I heard Sarah's voice," he later said, "I knew it was going to be wonderful." He also recognized Maybelle's instrumental abilities and noted the band's professional polish. The Carters recorded 12 songs and signed a five-year exclusive contract with RCA Victor. A day later, Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers, a well-traveled, self-promoting, colorful character, who drew from a range of styles and was called "The Singing Brakeman." In four days' time, Peer had signed the two dominant country music performers of the 1920s and '30s.
After Bristol, Maybelle gave birth to a daughter in the one-room Clinch Mountain cabin that she and her husband Eck had built with the help of their neighbors. With her mother-in-law serving as midwife, Maybelle survived the delivery without aspirin or doctor. Scott County life was hard and isolated. Jobs were scarce, even before the Depression of 1929. There were no televisions and few telephones or radios. Mail deliveries came two or three times a week, and neighbors shared month-old newspapers. Amid the poverty and isolation, people made, grew, or bartered for what they needed, or they did without. After work and chores, families and friends often gathered on the porch or by the fire to make music.
Maybelle raised her daughter, Sarah tended to her family, A.P. went back to work, and their records began to sell. The warm Carter harmonies hooked Southern listeners. Maybelle first heard a Carter Family record while visiting McClister's store. Cecil had sold 200 and reported sales of 2,000 in Atlanta.
The trip to Bristol established a pattern. For the next 15 years, the Carters would modestly venture out of the hills to play music—music that was indigenous to their southern mountain areas—and then return to their insular homes in
the Virginia hills to work other jobs, to raise children, to gather and write new songs. Each time they visited a recording studio, performed a concert, or sang live over the radio, they helped shape music history and preserved a portion of rural southern American heritage. The Carter Family music, set into wax molds spinning at 78 revolutions per minute at the Bristol recording studio, was simple, traditional, rural, and religious. The songs cataloged the hopes and sorrows of rural living, lamented the call of the city, and longed for places or loved ones left behind. Many of the tunes contained the traditional lyrics and melodies their European ancestors had carried across the ocean and up into the mountains. Their music, called by many names—traditional country music, mountain music, and hillbilly music—was similar in many ways to the commercial country music, bluegrass, and modern folk music that the Carters preceded and inspired.
Although it took some time before royalties trickled back to Scott County, concert requests picked up and A.P. devoted more time to managing the band. Instead of the vaudeville circuit or promotional tours to capitalize on their fame, the Carters continued to do casual, well-rehearsed and carefully presented performances. Kerosene lamps and lanterns brought by the spectators often lit their staging areas. Too modest to sell their own records at their concerts, they continued to perform as if playing for friends, usually to crowds of less than 200.
Despite their growing popularity, music income did not pay the bills. A.P. traveled to Detroit for work, and Maybelle traveled with Eck as his work advanced with the railroad. Then a telegraph came from Peer requesting another recording session. On May 7, 1928, the Carter Family boarded a train bound for Camden, New Jersey. The sessions at Victor's main recording studio were a turning point for the Carters, and music became their vocation.
Cash, June Carter (1929—)
American Grammy Award-winning country music songwriter, singer, entertainer and actress. Name variations: June Carter. Born Valerie June Carter in Maces Springs, Virginia, on June 23, 1929; daughter of Maybelle Carter (1909–1978) and Ezra Carter; married Carl Smith, in 1952 (divorced); married Rip Nix, in 1960 (divorced); married Johnny Cash, in 1968; children: Rebecca Carlene Smith (b. September 29, 1955, later known as Carlene Carter); Rosie Nix; John Carter Cash (b. 1970).
Although in the beginning, June Carter Cash's sisters had to work with her to help develop her musical talents, the slowest to develop ultimately became the most talented performer and the most famous of the Carter Sisters. "While everyone was dating," writes Cash, "I was busy riding everywhere in our old Cadillac, setting up the PA system, and taking money at the door." After high school, she bypassed college to go on the road, performing as many as five shows a day with her mother and sisters. Her mother Maybelle's smile and sense of humor, her tomboy outlook, and the road-show education took June a long way.
A.P. Carter initially noted June's potential and encouraged her to introduce comedy into performances. June's solo career flourished while she was still a member of the Carter Sisters. "Baby, It's Cold Outside," recorded with Homer and Jethro, made the top ten in 1949. In the early 1950s, she signed with Columbia and recorded a number of hits that made the country music charts.
In 1952, June married honky-tonk performer Carl Smith, whom she divorced two years after her daughter Rebecca Carlene Smith (Rebecca would later change her name to Carlene Carter ) was born. Carl recorded a song called "Just Wait Till I Get You Alone," and as an answer song—a country music tradition of a later song responding to an earlier hit—June recorded "You Flopped When You Got Me Alone."
In 1954, June left the Carter Sisters and the Grand Ole Opry and moved to New York to study dramatics at the Actor's Studio. She then appeared on television shows hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jack Paar, and Garry Moore, as well as on episodes of "Jim Bowie," "Gunsmoke," and "Little House on the Prairie." In 1958, she starred in a movie called Country Music Holiday. In 1960, she married wealthy contractor Rip Nix; the couple had a daughter named Rosie Nix before they divorced.
Elvis Presley, with whom Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters had toured as an opening act, suggested to Johnny Cash that he hire June. She joined Johnny Cash's touring troupe in 1961. In 1962, she signed an exclusive five-year personal appearance contract and started writing songs for him. The following year, she coauthored "The Matador" (1963), a huge hit. She and Merle Kilgore co-wrote "Ring of Fire," and Johnny Cash turned it into a number-one recording. In 1964, June and Johnny released the successful duet "It Ain't Me, Babe."
In 1967, the pair produced two country music hits: "Jackson" and "Guitar Pickin' Man." The following year, they began touring as a singing team. They married that March, in Franklin, Kentucky, after Johnny proposed on stage before a huge audience in London, Ontario. June, by then deeply religious, helped him fight a drug habit and encouraged him to convert to Christianity. The following year, they earned the "Vocal Group of the Year" award (1969) from the Country Music Association, and a Grammy for "If I Were a Carpenter." In June 1970, their son John Carter Cash was born.
June played the role of Mary Magdalene in a 20th Century-Fox movie called Gospel Road (1972), the concept for which reportedly originated from one of June's dreams. Her husband narrated the film. June's autobiography, Among My Klediments was published in 1979 and was followed by From the Heart in 1987.
Cash, June Carter. Among My Klediments. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.
Jesse T. Raiford
After their second child, June Carter (Cash) , was born in 1929, Maybelle and Eck moved to Bluefield, West Virginia, and then to Washington, D.C., where Eck continued his railroad work. Although this prevented the Carter Family from practicing regularly, Maybelle was able to perform at most of their concerts. During the Depression, record sales slowed but were steady enough to prove the existence of a longterm country music market. At a time when unemployment in America reached above 30%, the Carter Family members established what they regarded as a reasonable degree of economic comfort.
In 1931, Peer brought the Carters and Jimmie Rodgers together in Louisville, Kentucky, for a meeting of country music's royalty. Rodgers, whose professional success had awed the Carters, now suffered from tuberculosis, which left him too weak to both sing and play. Somewhat reluctantly, Maybelle faked his guitar style, and they recorded four songs together. Rodgers would die two years later.
The Family gained momentum after a third recording session in Camden. The Sears Roebuck Catalog began to list Carter Family recordings. But royalties, equally divided between the three, still did not fully support either family. As musicians were soon to learn, concerts increased record sales, and A.P. set up larger gatherings while the group's schedule expanded. They traveled in his new Model T throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, into Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Alabama.
By 1932, larger venues and a crowded schedule made it harder to linger with the crowds or to slip back home to their familiar lifestyles. "Keep on the Sunny Side" was their theme song, but it became increasingly difficult to follow their own advice. The professional grind strained both marriages. Eck had adjusted his work schedule so that Maybelle could be closer to the band, but she missed being a fulltime wife and mother. A.P.'s obsession with show business and Sarah's need for a normal life became irreconcilable; the couple separated in 1933. While taking a much needed break, Maybelle and Eck built a larger home with income from Eck's job and royalty payments. They were comfortable enough to afford the luxury of cleaning women, and Maybelle began to study classical guitar. On March 31, 1933, she gave birth to a girl named Anita . Although Sarah and A.P. lived apart, they sang together and remained friends.
The Carters left Victor in 1934 and went on hiatus. By 1935, Maybelle began to miss the stage and encouraged Sarah and A.P. to perform again. That year, they signed with the American Record Company, while Peer continued to advise the group. Concert bookings, record sales, and royalty income increased. They did occasional appearances on radio shows, and eventually the Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago featured them as regulars.
Carter, Anita (1933–1999)
American backup singer of Carter Sister fame and modest solo star. Born Ina Anita Carter in Maces Springs, Virginia, on March 31, 1933; died July 29, 1999; daughter of Maybelle Carter (1909–1978) and Ezra Carter; married Dale Potter (divorced); married Don Davis (divorced); married Robert Wooten (divorced); children: Lorrie Frances; John Christopher.
Like all of Maybelle Carter 's daughters, Anita was an accomplished musician. Proficient on the guitar, the autoharp, the gitarro, and the bass, she also worked as a songwriter. While singing with Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters, Anita performed solo when she dueted with Hank Snow on "Blue Island/ Down the Trail of Aching Hearts" in 1951. She recorded for Columbia Records (1953 and 1954), and between 1955 and 1957 joined with Kitty Wells ' daughter Ruby Wright and yodeler Don Winter's daughter Rita Robbins to produce several songs for RCA—under the name 'Nita, Rita and Ruby—aimed at the teen market.
After 1960, when Maybelle toured on the folk-music circuit and June Carter (Cash) was working with Johnny Cash, Anita devoted more time to a solo career. She was a sought after backup singer and in 1965 and 1966 had a couple of medium successes with her own records. In 1968, she recorded a top-five country single, "I Got You," with Waylon Jennings and in 1969 teamed with Johnny Darrell on "The Coming of the Roads." Anita worked for United Artists and Jennings and had several hits listed on the country charts into the 1970s.
Eventually shifting her attention to television production, Anita worked as a talent coordinator and consultant. She also performed on The Unbroken Circle, a tribute to Mother Maybelle Carter (produced in 1979); served as an associate producer on the movie County Gold (1982); and worked on the 1986 CBS-TV movie Stage Coach. Anita married and divorced three different musicians, one of them twice, and had two children.
Jesse T. Raiford
John Romulus Brinkley—a politician, radio pioneer, and self-proclaimed doctor of medicine—brought the Carter Family to a huge audience in 1937. Though his station XERA was located in Mexico, allowing him to skirt U.S. standards, it sat near the Texas border and the town of Del Rio, Texas. Thus, his 100,000-watt station reached most of North America. Performing six days a week on the radio from June 1938 to October 1940 required tremendous effort, but the work paid well. Carter Family broadcasts exceeded expectations, and their national exposure increased record sales as royalties finally began to mount.
That first year in Texas, Maybelle lived with her daughter Anita while Eck traveled with the railroad. Daughters June and Helen stayed with their Aunt Sylvia. With so many radio hours to fill, family members joined the shows. First Jeanette , daughter of A.P. and Sarah, and then Maybelle's daughter Anita, sang on the air. After a contract renewal, Maybelle's two other daughters, June and Helen, moved to Texas and joined the broadcasts. Sarah, A.P. and Maybelle performed two days a week, leaving the other three days for their daughters. The second year, performances were transcribed (an early recording technique) in the XERA engineer's basement studio and sent to other stations, giving the Carters their largest audience ever. Despite success, life in the barren countryside of Texas and the strain on A.P., who arranged every program, eventually became unbearable. After Sarah remarried in the winter of 1939, A.P. was distracted and distant. Ultimately, the work in Texas ended in 1940 due to a Mexican-American transmission agreement that affected XERA.
Carter, Helen (1927–1998)
American musician who became known as the most capable instrumentalist of the Carter Sisters. Born Helen Myrl Carter in Maces Springs, Virginia, on September 12, 1927; died in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 2, 1998; first daughter of Maybelle and Ezra Carter; married Glen Jones, in 1950; children: Glen Daniel; Kenneth Burton; David Lawrence; Kevin Carter.
When the Carter Family made their first recordings in 1927, Maybelle Carter was eight months pregnant with Helen. Surrounded by music and musicians, Helen became proficient on the accordion, guitar, autoharp, piano and mandolin. She also sang and learned to write songs.
In 1950, Helen married pilot and inventor Glen Jones, with whom she would have four children, and signed with Tennessee Records. The most talented musician of Maybelle's three daughters, she had a hit as a songwriter in 1959 with "Poor Old Heartsick Me," but had the majority of her success working alongside her mother and sisters as part of the Carter Family and the Carter Sisters. Although Helen had the most stability away from the music of all the Carter Sisters, she was the least publicly known.
Carter, Jeanette (1923—)
American musician who opened the Carter Family "Fold," a performance center in Maces Springs, Virginia, and the Carter Family Museum. Born Jeanette Carter in Maces Springs, Virginia, on July 2, 1923; middle daughter of Sarah Carter (1898–1979) and A.P. Carter; married and divorced twice; children: Dale, Don, Rita.
Jeanette Carter grew up surrounded by musicians and, at age four, accompanied the Carter Family on their historic trip to Bristol, southwestern Virginia, for their first recording session. She learned to sing, write songs and play the autoharp. By age 15, she became the first Carter Family sibling to perform on the radio. Jeanette occasionally played with, or filled in for, her aunt Maybelle Carter , or her mother Sarah Carter , and she began to perform as a soloist during the Carter Family radio broadcasts in 1938.
After her parents divorced and the Carter Family disbanded, Jeanette remained in Maces Springs. She wrote and recorded with her father A.P. when he attempted a comeback in the mid-1950s. After A.P. passed away in 1960, she also recorded a few songs on her own but without much success.
At age 51, Jeanette, who had promised her father that she would devote her life to the perpetuation of old-time music, converted A.P.'s old store into a "hoe-down" venue (1974), where up to 200 could gather for old-time country music playing and dancing. As the venue grew in popularity, her brother Joe built the "Fold," an outside theater overlooking the valley with seats for 400. The store was converted into the Carter Family Museum. In 1975, Jeanette sponsored the first Annual Carter Family Memorial Festival, held in Hiltons, Virginia.
Jesse T. Raiford
After the Carter Family recorded their final album together, it looked like the end for the Carter Family when Sarah moved to California in 1941 and avoided performing. But in 1942 she surprised everyone by accepting work with the band on WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the largest stations in the Southeast. Since Charlotte was one of the stops on Eck's Southern Railroad run as a mail clerk, the whole family moved. Sarah and A.P.'s children, Gladys , Jeanette, and Joe, made appearances with them on the air. Maybelle's children went to school during the week and then joined the Saturday night shows. But when old tensions flared, the group rejected a contract renewal and disbanded for good. Sarah returned to California with her new husband Coy, A.P. went back to his cabin, and Maybelle, Eck, and their daughters returned to Scott County.
Historians call the Carter Family the first nationally prominent stars of country music. Lacking in self-promotion, the modest threesome became seminal country-music influences, later to be dubbed "patron saints of folk music" and "country music's first family." Performers as diverse as Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Leadbelly, The Stanley Brothers, Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, Dottie West , and Clarence White owe homage to the Carters. Bluegrass guitarist Lester Flatt compiled a commemorative album for Maybelle, who with Sarah did most of the picking and singing, assuming a forefront status in an age when bands relegated women to backup singing and accompanist roles. Folk artist Joan Baez began her career singing Carter classics. Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight," The Kingston Trio's "Worried Man," Roy Acuff's "Wabash Cannonball," Linda Ronstadt 's "I Never Will Marry," Emmylou Harris ' "Hello Stranger," and Minnie Pearl 's "Jealous Hearted Me" were all introduced first by the Carter Family. Ten years before Bill Monroe invented bluegrass, Maybelle was strumming the standard guitar rhythms, and the Carters were singing the essential bluegrass vocal harmony foundations. Carter Family songs remain gospel standards.
The Carter's collective works exceed 250 recorded songs. Famous songs first written or popularized by the family include: "Keep on the Sunny Side," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," "John Hardy," "Gold Watch and Chain," "Lonesome Valley," "Cowboy Jack," "Engine 143," "Foggy Mountain Top," "My Heart's Tonight in Texas," "Black Jack David," "Rambling Boy," "Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow," "Coal Miner's Blues," "You Are My Flower," and "I Have No One to Love Me."
After the Carter Family disbanded, Maybelle was still not through with show business. After six-months' vacation, Eck encouraged Maybelle, who missed the music, to return to the stage. Maybelle and her daughters abandoned old-time music for an all-female format. Instead of Maybelle and the staid Sarah in straight-back chairs with A.P. standing behind to introduce songs, Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters added comedy, a dance routine, and pop songs to the mix of Carter Family classics. Maybelle's easygoing personality and keen sense of humor added to the act. Helen sometimes played the accordion; Anita, on bass, occasionally stood on her head; and June "hoofed away," doing what she called "one of the silliest looking vaudeville jigs that a girl could ever do."
The daughters' first public appearance had been on the WOPI radio program "Popeye Club" in 1937, when Anita was just four, singing "Beautiful Brown Eyes." The three sisters gained experience on the radio in Mexico, but June remembered touring and working live audiences as the influences that taught them to be performers. In 1943, Maybelle assumed A.P.'s role, booking shows, fixing flat tires, sometimes driving through the night. Her daughters bounced between states and schools, while the concerts helped land radio offers.
Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters first appeared on WRNL and then the Old Dominion Barn Dance on WRVA in Richmond, Virginia. June blossomed on WRVA and developed as a comedian. When they moved to WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1948, Eck quit to work full time with his wife and daughters. The same year, they released their first record, "The Kneeling Drunkard's Pleas." In 1949, they moved to the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, where they reached huge audiences on Si Siman's KWTO. The group briefly turned to gospel music, but June and Anita's public divorces made it difficult to maintain a full-time repertoire of religious music, despite the wholesome, country sweetheart image they maintained on stage.
By the late 1940s, the Carter Sisters were known throughout the country. As the family Packard traveled as far as Bakersfield, California, Maybelle wrote songs and rearranged country music standards. Their success led to an invitation that Maybelle considered the high point of her career: in 1950, they joined the Grand Ole Opry, which was by then the Mecca of country music.
In 1952, host Kate Smith introduced the Carter Sisters on the first national country music television show. During the same year, A.P. Carter, with his son Joe and daughter Jeanette, formed a new Carter Family band and opened an outdoor arena in Maces Springs. They played together until 1956 but, unlike the Carter Sisters, were unable to adapt to the expanded business of country music that ironically A.P. had helped pioneer.
In 1956 and 1957, Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters toured as the opening act for Elvis Presley. When A.P. died in 1960, they reclaimed the Carter Family name, recorded for Decca, and then had several hits for Columbia. In 1961, Maybelle, Anita, and Helen joined June in a limited association with Johnny Cash. They backed up Cash on the 1963 hit "Busted" and had a top-40 success with "A Song to Momma," narrated by Cash.
Maybelle's popularity increased as folk music became popular in the 1960s. She toured campuses and concert halls on the folk circuit and headlined at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. Maybelle also talked Sarah into recording the album "An Historic Reunion" in 1966, and the following year Sarah joined Maybelle at the Newport Folk Festival. In 1967, the group left the Opry to join sister June on ABC television's The Johnny Cash Show and stayed until 1969. In 1970, Maybelle, Sarah, and A.P. were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The following year, Merle Haggard invited the Carters to perform along with Bonnie Owens on his double album "Land of Many Churches." Also in 1971, Maybelle played a major role on a record that united musicians from different camps and brought traditional country and bluegrass music to a new urban audience. The concept album borrowed its title, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," from a famous Carter Family song. Released during the early 1970s, the successful triple album appeared in stores at a time when the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement, and campus unrest polarized America. The media took note as long-haired, liberal California musicians and conservative Southern musicians warmed to each other in the studio.
In 1972, the Carter Family had a top-50 hit, "Travelin' Minstrel Band," and a top-40 single, "The World Needs a Melody." The following year, working with Cash and the Oak Ridge Boys, they had their last country chart entry, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup." At age 64, Maybelle, a living legend in the world of bluegrass and folk music, became the oldest woman listed on the national country charts. Throughout her life, as the world and the music business changed, Maybelle maintained her country ways, smiling disposition, and intense love of music. Her spirit lingers in the oldest Carter Family 78's and colors modern renditions of Carter Family songs by new artists. "God, the first time I heard the Carters sing 'Gold Watch and Chain,'" said Emmylou Harris, "I thought about my grandparents and I cried."
In the mid-1970s, Maybelle began to suffer from arthritis and a form of Parkinson's disease. In 1976, she missed a note on the autoharp and never again played it in public. Her final public appearance was with Sarah at the Carter Family Reunion at Jeanette Carter's "Fold," an outdoor stage in the mountains of Southern Virginia, not far from where Carter music first echoed among the hills. Maybelle Carter died at the age of 69, on October 23, 1978.
Carter, Carlene (1955—)
American rock and country music singer, songwriter, guitar and piano player who was heir to the Carter Family legacy. Born Rebecca Carlene Smith in Madison, Tennessee, September 26, 1955; daughter of June Carter Cash (b. 1929) and Carl Smith; stepsister of Rosanne Cash (1955—); married Joe Simpkins, in 1970 (divorced); married Jack Routh, in 1974 (divorced); married Nick Lowe, in 1979 (divorced); children: Tiffany and Jackson.
Carlene Carter was born Rebecca Carlene Smith in Madison, Tennessee, in 1955. Her parents, June Carter (Cash) and honky-tonk star Carl Smith, divorced when Carlene was two. Her mother married Rip Nix, a wealthy contractor, when Carlene was six, but they soon divorced; she then married country music superstar Johnny Cash when Carlene was 12. Carlene hated growing up in the spotlight. While tour groups stopped to gaze at her house, family indiscretions made the tabloids. Dropping out of high school at age 15 to become a teenage mother, Carlene married and divorced twice before turning 20. The wilder side of her early career was reportedly urged on by cocaine. "I was caught up in that southern-woman idea that once you had your man, then your life was figured out," she said. "Then one day it dawned on me that my life is what I make it."
Although Carlene rebelled against the family fame, she absorbed the stagecraft and the music that was her legacy. She first appeared on stage at the age of four, singing with her half sister Rosie Nix and with four of Johnny Cash's daughters, including Rosanne Cash . For a short time, Carlene sang the Coasters' rock-and-roll classic "Charlie Brown" in the family road show. She began playing piano at age six, studied classical music, and, at age ten, started strumming the guitar after instructions from her grandmother Maybelle Carter . At age 17, Carlene and Maybelle sang before an audience of over 10,000 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Carlene was close to her upbeat grandmother and was inspired by Maybelle's love of, and dedication to, her music.
In 1977, Carlene recorded her first album, a collection of piano-based pop songs performed with Graham Parker's former band Rumor. Two years later, she married rock star Nick Lowe. Her next two albums were Two Sides of Every Woman (1979) and Musical Shapes (1980). Critics praised the single "Musical Shapes," calling it a "fusion of rock and country." Carlene followed with the albums Blue Nun (1981) and C'est C Bon (1983), neither of which fared well.
In 1985, the same year that Carlene appeared in the London version of the Broadway show Pump Boys and Dinettes, the Carter Family toured England. When Anita couldn't perform because of an illness, Carlene filled in. Her marriage to Nick Lowe folded, and in 1987 and 1988 she toured regularly with the Carter Family. Eventually, her music style turned from rock-and-roll back to her country roots.
In 1988, Carlene moved in with Howie Epstein, a successful record producer and member of Tom Petty's band, the Heartbreakers. Epstein produced her album I Fell in Love in 1990, a highly successful and pivotal country album for which Carlene co-wrote most of the songs, as well as Little Love Letters in 1993. In 1994, she appeared on the soundtrack of the feature film Maverick and in 1995 released Little Acts of Treason.
Jesse T. Raiford
Helen and Anita continued to tour as the Carter Family. In 1980, MCN named them Gospel "Act of the Year" at the Cover awards. In 1988, along with Maybelle's granddaughter Carlene Carter , they recorded Maybelle's most famous song, "Wildwood Flower," on Mercury. In June of 1992, they appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2" and received Gold Records for their contributions.
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Jesse T. Raiford , President of Raiford Communications, Inc., New York City