Carter Family

  November 16, 2021   Read time 2 min
Carter Family
The group consisted of Alvin Pleasant Carter, known as A.P. Carter (b. April 15, 1891, Maces Spring, Va., U.S.—d. Nov. 7, 1960, Kentucky), his wife, Sara, née Sara Dougherty (b. July 21, 1898, Flatwoods, Va., U.S.—d. Jan. 8, 1979, Lodi, Calif.), and his sister-in-law Maybelle Carter, née Maybelle Addington (b. May 10, 1909, Nickelsville, Va.)
The Carter Family was a singing group that was a leading force in the spread and popularization of the songs of the Appalachian Mountain region of the eastern United States. The family’s recording career began in 1927 in response to an advertisement placed in a local newspaper by a talent scout for Victor Records. Over the next 16 years, with two of Sara’s children and three of Maybelle’s (Helen, June, and Anita) also appearing, they recorded more than 300 songs for various labels, covering a significant cross section of the mountain music repertory, including old ballads and humorous songs, sentimental pieces from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many religious pieces. They later performed extensively on radio, popularizing many songs that became standards of folk and country music, including “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy,” “Wabash Cannonball,” “It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song,” and “Wildwood Flower.”
The Carter Family was remarkable not only for its prolific recording but also for the musical accomplishment—and balance—of its members. A.P. was the group’s songsmith. He was an avid collector of oral tradition, as well as an adept arranger of rural regional repertoire for consumption by a broader audience. A.P. also composed many new songs for the group, replicating the style of the traditional material. Sara, with her strong soprano voice, was typically the lead singer, supported by Maybelle’s alto harmonies and A.P.’s bass and baritone interjections. The instrumental anchor of the Carter Family was Maybelle, a skilled performer on guitar, banjo, and autoharp. She also developed a unique finger-picking technique on guitar that continues to be emulated by many guitarists today.
In 1943 the Carter Family disbanded, its members subsequently forming various other groups. Maybelle (“Mother”) Carter performed both with her daughters and as a soloist. In the 1950s the Carter Family re-formed and appeared intermittently, with a changing lineup. The original Carter Family was the first group admitted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Maybelle also sang periodically with her son-in-law Johnny Cash, whose gritty songs of social commentary had already propelled him to the top of the country-andwestern music industry. Known for his black clothes and
rebellious persona, Cash married June Carter in 1968 during a period of waning popularity, after she helped him combat his drug addiction. The signal event in Cash’s turnaround was the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968), recorded live at California’s Folsom Prison. He won a new generation of fans in 1994 after the release of his acoustic album American Recordings. The recipient of numerous awards, Cash won 13 Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1999, and 9 Country Music Association Awards. Cash was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1996 he received a Kennedy Center Honor.

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Peggy Marsheck
November 17, 2021

The Original Carter Family, A.P., Sara and Maybelle, recorded the 300 songs, as you mentioned. Their children joined the group for radio broadcasts (as in the first photo you printed), but were not included in those recordings. In the 1950s A.P. and Sara included their children in recordings for Acme Records as the A.P. Carter Family; and The Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle (including Helen, June and Anita) began their own recording career.