Singers. songwriters, and folk song collectors.
The Carter Family of Scott County, Virginia, ranks as the most signiﬁcant pre–World War II country music recording act. Their legacy extended to later generations, and their impact upon traditional Appalachian music remained strong into the twenty-ﬁrst century. A. P. Carter (b. December 15, 1891), his wife, Sara (b. July 21, 1899), and sister-in-law, Maybelle (b. May 10, 1909), sang a mixture of traditional ballads, Victorian popular songs, and old hymns with guitar and autoharp accompaniment. From their ﬁrst recordings at the Victor Talking Machine Company’s famous Bristol sessions in 1927, the Carter Family attracted a large audience. Although only part-time performers throughout much of their careers, the Carters introduced many now-standard songs into country music, including “Wildwood Flower,” “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” and “Foggy Mountain Top.”
The marriage of A. P. and Sara Carter disintegrated in the early 1930s, and the couple soon divorced. However, the Carter Family’s recording career continued without interruption. After 1934, they left Victor and made discs for the American Record Company, Decca, and Conqueror before recording their ﬁnal sessions for Victor in 1941. By then, they had amassed a recorded legacy of approximately three hundred masters. During this period, they also performed over radio on Mexican border stations and on Charlotte, North Carolina’s WBT.
Meanwhile, in 1939 Sara married A. P.’s cousin Coy Bayes and eventually relocated to California. A. P. and Sara’s younger children, Janette (b. 1923) and Joe (1927–2005), inherited their musical talents, as did Maybelle’s daughters, Helen (1927–1998), June (1929–2003), and Anita (1933– 1999). After the ﬁnal breakup of the Carter Family in 1943, Maybelle and her daughters worked as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters on various radio stations across the South, eventually settling in Nashville and performing on WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. In addition to their family group, both Anita and June Carter had solo careers, with the latter also doing comedy. A. P., Sara, Janette, and Joe Carter also made some recordings for Acme. A. P. died November 7, 1960.
By the 1960s, the surviving Carters had begun to gain recognition for their pioneering roles in the industry. In 1970 the original Carter Family trio was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Maybelle died October 23, 1978, while Sara passed away on January 8, 1979. In 1976 Janette and Joe Carter opened the Carter Family Fold near Hiltons, Virginia, on the site where A. P. had operated a country store in his last years. There, Janette continues to present traditional music shows on Saturdays. The deaths of Helen, Anita, and June (who married country singer Johnny Cash in 1968) left daughter Carlene Carter (from June’s previous marriage to country singer Carl Smith) as the sole survivor of the Nashville branch of the musical dynasty.
Cite this Entry
"Carter Family," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 25 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=46>
"Carter Family." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 25, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=46