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The Carter Family

The most influential group in country music history, the Carter Family switched the emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals, made scores of their songs part of the standard country music canon, and made a style of guitar playing, "Carter picking," the dominant technique for decades. Along with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family were among the first country music stars. Comprised of a gaunt, shy gospel quartet member named Alvin P. Carter and two reserved country girls -- his wife, Sara, and their sister-in-law, Maybelle -- the Carter Family sang a pure, simple harmony that influenced not only the numerous other family groups of the '30s and the '40s, but folk, bluegrass, and rock musicians like Woody Guthrie, Bill Monroe, the Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris, to mention just a few.

It's unlikely that bluegrass music would have existed without the Carter Family. A.P., the family patriarch, collected hundreds of British/Appalachian folk songs and, in arranging these for recording, enhanced the pure beauty of these "facts-of-life tunes" and at the same time saved them for future generations. Those hundreds of songs the trio members found around their Virginia and Tennessee homes, after being sung by A.P., Sara, and Maybelle, became Carter songs, even though these were folk songs and in the public domain. Among the more than 300 sides they recorded are "Worried Man Blues," "Wabash Cannonball," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Wildwood Flower," and "Keep on the Sunny Side."

The Carter Family's instrumental backup, like their vocals, was unique. On her Gibson L-5 guitar, Maybelle played a bass-strings lead (the guitar being tuned down from the standard pitch) that is the mainstay of bluegrass guitarists to the present. Sara accompanied her on the autoharp or on a second guitar, while A.P. devoted his talent to singing in a haunting though idiosyncratic bass or baritone. Although the original Carter Family disbanded in 1943, enough of their recordings remained in the vaults to keep the group current through the '40s. Furthermore, their influence was evident through further generations of musicians, in all forms of popular music, through the end of the century.

Initially, the Carter Family consisted of just A.P. and Sara. Born and raised in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia, A.P. (b. Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter, December 15, 1891; d. November 7, 1960) learned to play fiddle as a child, with his mother teaching him several traditional and old-time songs; his father had played violin as a young man, but abandoned the instrument once he married. Once he became an adult, he began singing with two uncles and his older sister in a gospel quartet, but he became restless and soon moved to Indiana, where he worked on the railroad. By 1911, he had returned to Virginia, where he sold fruit trees and wrote songs in his spare time.

While he was traveling and selling trees, he met Sara (b. Sara Dougherty, July 21, 1898; d. January 8, 1979). According to legend, she was on her porch playing the autoharp and singing "Engine 143" when he met her. Like A.P., Sara learned how to sing and play through her family. As a child, she learned a variety of instruments, including autoharp, guitar, and banjo, and she played with her friends and cousins.

A.P. and Sara fell in love and married on June 18, 1915, settling in Maces Springs, where he worked various jobs while the two of them sang at local parties, socials, and gatherings. For the next 11 years, they played locally. During that time, the duo auditioned for Brunswick Records, but the label was only willing to sign A.P. and only if he recorded fiddle dance songs under the name Fiddlin' Doc; he rejected their offer, believing that it was against his parents' religious beliefs.

Eventually, Maybelle Carter (b. Maybelle Addington, May 10, 1909; d. October 23, 1978) -- who had married A.P.'s brother Ezra -- began singing and playing guitar with Sara and A.P. Following Maybelle's addition to the Carter Family in 1926, the group began auditioning at labels in earnest. In 1927, the group auditioned for Ralph Peer, a New York-based A&R man for Victor Records who was scouting for local talent in Bristol, TN. The Carters recorded six tracks, including "The Wandering Boy" and "Single Girl, Married Girl." Victor released several of the songs as singles, and when the records sold well, the label offered the group a long-range contract.

The Carter Family signed with Victor in 1928, and over the next seven years the group recorded most of its most famous songs, including "Wabash Cannonball," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man," "Wildwood Flower," and "Keep on the Sunny Side," which became the Carters' signature song. By the end of the '20s, the group had become a well-known national act, but its income was hurt considerably by the Great Depression. Because of the financial crisis, the Carters were unable to play concerts in cities across the U.S. and were stuck playing schoolhouses in Virginia. Eventually, all of the members became so strapped for cash they had to move away from home to find work. In 1929, A.P. moved to Detroit temporarily while Maybelle and her husband relocated to Washington, D.C.

In addition to the stress of the Great Depression, A.P. and Sara's marriage began to fray, and the couple separated in 1932. For the next few years, the Carters only saw each other at recording sessions, partially because the Depression had cut into the country audience and partially because the women were raising their families. In 1935, the Carters left Victor for ARC, where they re-recorded their most famous songs. The following year, they signed to Decca.

Eventually, the group signed a lucrative radio contract with XERF in Del Rio, TX, which led to contracts at a few other stations along the Mexican and Texas border. Because of their locations, these stations could broadcast at levels that were far stronger than other American radio stations, so the Carters' radio performances could be heard throughout the nation, either in their live form or as radio transcriptions. As a result, the band's popularity increased dramatically, and their Decca records became extremely popular.

Just as their career was back in full swing, Sara and A.P.'s marriage fell apart, with the couple divorcing in 1939. Nevertheless, the Carter Family continued to perform, remaining in Texas until 1941, when they moved to a radio station in Charlotte, NC. During the early '40s, the band briefly recorded for Columbia before re-signing with Victor in 1941. Two years later, Sara decided to retire and move out to California with her new husband, Coy Bayes (who was A.P.'s cousin), while A.P. moved back to Virginia, where he ran a country store. Maybelle Carter began recording and touring with her daughters, Helen, June, and Anita.

A.P. and Sara re-formed the Carter Family with their grown children in 1952, performing a concert in Maces Spring. Following the successful concert, the Kentucky-based Acme signed A.P., Sara, and their daughter Janette to a contract, and over the next four years they recorded nearly 100 songs that didn't gain much attention at the time. In 1956, the Carter Family disbanded for the second time. Four years later, A.P. died at his Maces Spring home. Following his death, the Carter Family's original recordings began to be reissued. In 1966, Maybelle persuaded Sara to reunite to play a number of folk festivals and record an album for Columbia. In 1970, the Carter Family became the first group to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is a fitting tribute to their immense influence and legacy. ~ David Vinopal
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: The Acme Sessions 1952-56

Disc 1

1. Pretty Raindrops

2. There's A Bright Side Somewhere

3. Climbing Zion's Hill

4. Longing For Home

5. Railroading On The Great Divide

6. Live On Down The Line

7. No More Goodbyes (At Home With Our Saviour Above)

8. On The Rock Where Moses Stood

9. Storms Are On The Ocean

10. Soldier's Beyond The Blue

11. Sweet Fern

12. Wildwood Flower

13. Keep On The Sunny Side

14. Sow 'Em On The Mountain

15. I'll Be Satisfied

16. Room In Heaven For Me

17. Gently Lead Me

18. Ship Ahoy

20. Beautiful Isle O'Er The Sea

21. My Wildwood Rose

22. The Titanic

23. When The Sunset Turns The Ocean Blue To Gold

24. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

25. Little Moses

26. Western Hobo

27. Beautiful Home

28. I Shall Not Be Moved

Disc 2

1. My Dixie Darling

2. Wabash Cannonball

3. Meeting In The Air

4. Ship Ahoy

5. Wade In The Water

6. Jesus Hold My Hand

8. Anchored In Love

9. Curtains Of Night

10. Angel Band

11. Redemption Song

12. Gold Watch And Chain

13. Worried Man Blues

14. Wayworn Traveller

15. Homestead On The Farm

16. Grave On The Green Hillside

17. Waves On The Sea

18. Wildwood Flower

19. Keep On The Sunnyside

20. Motherless Children

21. Two More Years (And I'll Be Free)

22. Broken Engagement

23. The Last Letter

24. On The Sea Of Galilee

27. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

28. Midnight On The Stormy Deep

29. Railroading On The Great Divide

30. Wildwood Flower

x

Track List: In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain

Disc 1

1. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow

2. Little Log Cabin By The Sea

3. The Poor Orphan Child

4. The Storms Are On The Ocean

5. Single Girl, Married Girl

6. The Wandering Boy

7. Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone

8. Little Darling Pal Of Mine

9. Keep On The Sunny Side

10. Anchored In Love

11. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man

12. I Ain't Goin' To Work Tomorrow

13. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?

14. River Of Jordan

15. Chewing Gum

16. Wildwood Flower

17. I Have No One To Love Me (But The Sailor On The Deep Blue Sea)

18. Forsaken Love

19. Sweet Fern

20. My Clinch Mountain Home

21. God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign

22. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

23. Little Moses

24. Lulu Wall

25. The Grave On The Green Hillside

Disc 2

1. Don't Forget This Song

2. The Foggy Mountain Top

3. Bring Back My Blue-Eyed Boy To Me

4. Diamonds In The Rough

5. Engine 143

6. The Homestead On The Farm

7. Cyclone Of Rye Cove

8. Motherless Children

9. When The Roses Bloom In Dixieland

10. No Telephone In Heaven

11. Western Hobo

12. Carter's Blues

13. Wabash Cannonball

14. A Distant Land To Roam

15. Jimmie Brown The Newsboy

16. Kitty Waltz

17. Fond Affection

18. The Cannon-Ball

19. The Lover's Farewell

20. There's Someone Awaiting For Me

21. The Little Log Hut In The Lane

22. When The Springtime Comes Again

23. When The World's On Fire

24. I Have An Aged Mother

25. The Dying Soldier

26. Worried Man Blues

Disc 3

1. Lonesome Valley

2. On The Rock Where Moses Stood

3. Room In Heaven For Me

4. Lonesome Pine Special

5. No More The Moon Shines On Lorena

6. On My Way To Canaan's Land

7. Where Shall I Be?

8. Sow 'Em On The Mountain

9. Darling Nellie Across The Sea

10. The Birds Were Singing Of You

11. Weary Prodigal Son

12. My Old Cottage Home

13. When I'm Gone

14. Sunshine In The Shadows

15. Let The Church Roll On

16. Lonesome For You

17. Can't Feel At Home

18. Why There's A Tear In My Eye

19. The Wonderful City

20. Jimmie Rodgers Visits The Carter Family

21. The Carter Family And Jimmie Rodgers In Texas

22. 'Mid The Green Fields Of Virginia

23. Happiest Days Of All

24. Picture On The Wall

25. Amber Tresses

Disc 4

1. I Never Loved But One

2. Tell Me That You Love Me

3. Where We'll Never Grow Old

4. We Will March Through The Streets Of The City

5. Sweet As The Flowers In May Time

6. Will The Roses Bloom In Heaven

7. My Little Home In Tennessee

8. The Sun Of The Soul

9. If One Won't Another One Will

10. The Broken Hearted Lover

11. Two Sweethearts

12. The Winding Stream

13. I Wouldn't Mind Dying

14. The Spirit Of Love Watches Over Me

15. The Church In The Wildwood

16. Give Me Roses While I Live

17. I Never Will Marry

18. On The Sea Of Galilee

19. Home By The Sea

21. I Loved You Better Than You Knew

22. This Is Like Heaven To Me

23. See That My Grave Is Kept Green

24. Over The Garden Wall

25. Gold Watch And Chain

26. School House On The Hill

Disc 5

1. Will My Mother Know Me There?

3. Poor Little Orphaned Boy

4. On A Hill Lone And Gray

5. Cowboy Jack

6. I'll Be All Smiles Tonight

7. Away Out On The Old Saint Sabbeth

8. Darling Little Joe

9. Happy Or Lonesome

10. One Little Word

11. Darling Daisies

12. The East Virginia Blues

13. Lover's Return

14. It'll Aggravate Your Soul

15. Hello Central! Give Me Heaven

16. I'm Working On A Building

17. You've Been Fooling Me, Baby

18. Longing For Old Virginia

19. March Winds Goin' To Blow My Blues All Away

20. There'll Be Joy, Joy, Joy

21. Home In Tennessee

22. Are You Tired Of Me, My Darling

23. I Cannot Be Your Sweetheart

24. My Heart's Tonight In Texas

25. There's No Hiding Place Down Here

26. Cowboy's Wild Song To His Herd

Disc 6

1. The Evening Bells Are Ringing

2. The Mountains Of Tennessee

3. I'll Be Home Some Day

4. Faded Coat Of Blue

5. Sailor Boy

6. Glory To The Lamb

7. Behind Those Stone Walls

8. Sinking In The Lonesome Sea

9. He Took A White Rose From Her Hair

10. Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye)

11. Let's Be Lovers Again

12. Your Mother Still Prays (For You Jack)

13. Kissing Is A Crime

14. Don't Forget Me Little Darling

15. Sad And Lonesome Day

16. By The Touch Of Her Hand

18. My Old Virginia Home

19. My Virginia Rose Is Blooming

20. My Texas Girl

21. No Other's Bride I'll Be

22. Gathering Flowers From The Hillside

23. Gospel Ship

24. The Little Black Train

25. Keep On The Sunny Side

26. River Of Jordan

Disc 7

1. Lonesome Valley

2. God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign

3. Single Girl, Married Girl

4. The Fate Of Dewey Lee

5. Wildwood Flower

6. Sea Of Galilee

7. Don't Forget This Song

8. My Clinch Mountain Home

9. The Storms Are On The Ocean

10. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone

11. Broken Hearted Lover

12. Little Darling, Pal Of Mine

13. The Homestead On The Farm

14. Cannon Ball Blues

15. Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone

16. On The Rock Where Moses Stood

17. Lulu Walls

18. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

19. Worried Man Blues

20. My Dixie Darling

21. Give Me Your Love And I'll Give You Mine

22. Are You Lonesome Tonight?

23. The Last Move For Me

24. The Wayworn Traveller

25. Just Another Broken Heart

26. When Silver Threads Are Gold Again

Disc 8

1. There's No One Like Mother To Me

2. In A Little Village Churchyard

3. Jealous Hearted Me

4. My Native Home

5. Sweet Heaven In My View

6. No Depression (In Heaven)

7. Bonnie Blue Eyes

8. My Honey Lou

9. In The Shadow Of The Pines

10. Answer To Weeping Willow

11. You've Been A Friend To Me

12. Where The Silvery Colorado Wends Its Way

13. Lay My Head Beneath The Rose

14. No Depression In Heaven

15. My Native Home

16. Jealous Hearted Me

17. A Distant Land To Roam

18. I'm Working On A Building

19. East Virginia Blues

20. My Dixie Darling

21. Keep On The Sunny Side

22. Kissing Is A Crime

23. Single Girl, Married Girl

24. Little Darling Pal Of Mine

25. Lonesome Valley

26. Cannon Ball Blues

27. Happy Or Lonesome

Disc 9

1. Are You Lonesome Tonight

2. Just Another Broken Heart

3. The Broken Down Tramp

4. Lover's Lane

5. Hold Fast To The Right

6. Lord, I'm In Your Care

7. Funny When You Feel That Way

8. In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain

9. Hello Stranger

10. Never Let The Devil Get The Upper Hand Of You

11. When This Evening Sun Goes Down

12. Jim Blake's Message

13. Honey In The Rock

14. Look How This World Has Made A Change

15. Little Girl That Played On My Knee

16. You Better Let That Liar Alone

17. Farewell Nellie

18. The Only Girl (I Ever Cared About)

19. Goodbye To The Plains

20. My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains

21. Dark Haired True Lover

22. He Never Came Back

23. Happy In Prison

24. Walking In The King's Highway

25. St. Regious Girl

26. Just A Few More Days

Disc 10

1. Bring Back My Boy

2. It Is Better Farther On

3. Charlie And Nellie

4. Cuban Soldier

5. The Heart That Was Broken For Me

6. You're Nothing More To Me

7. Stern Old Bachelor

8. Little Joe

9. Reckless Motorman

10. You Denied Your Love

11. Oh Take Me Back

12. You Are My Flower

13. Who's That Knocking At My Window

14. They Call Her Mother

15. Coal Miner's Blues

16. Young Freda Bolt

17. Little Poplar Log House On The Hill

18. The Dying Mother

19. Buddies In The Saddle

20. Heaven's Radio

21. Beautiful Home

22. There'll Be No Distinction There

23. Give Him One More As He Goes

24. Lonesome For You Darling

25. Blackie's Gunman

26. You've Got To Righten That Wrong

27. Meeting In The Air

28. My Home Among The Hills

Disc 11

1. Black Jack David

2. Look Away From The Cross

3. We Shall Rise

4. I Found You Among The Roses

5. Bear Creek Blues

6. I'll Never Forsake You

7. Beautiful Isle O'er The Sea

8. It's A Long Long Road To Travel Alone

9. Why Do You Cry, Little Darling

10. You Tied A Love Knot In My Heart

11. Lonesome Homesick Blues

12. Dark And Stormy Weather

13. In The Valley Of The Shenandoah

14. Girl On The Greenbrier Shore

15. Something Got A Hold Of Me

16. Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room

17. Keep On The Firing Line

18. The Wave On The Sea

19. The Rambling Boy

20. You're Gonna Be Sorry You Let Me Down

Disc 12

2. The Ship That Never Returned

x

Track List: Wildwood Flower

1. Wildwood Flower

2. Keep On The Sunny Side

3. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow

4. Little Log Cabin By The Sea

5. Little Darling Pal Of Mine

6. Anchored In Love

7. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man

8. River Of Jordan

9. Sweet Fern

10. My Clinch Mountain Home

11. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

12. Lulu Walls

13. Foggy Mountain Top

14. Carter's Blues

15. Wabash Cannonball

16. Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy

17. The Cannonball

18. Worried Man Blues

19. Lonesome Valley

20. Lonesome Pine Special

21. I Never Will Marry

22. Can The Circle Be Unbroken

23. My Dixie Darling

24. Oh Take Me Back

25. You Are My Flower

x

Track List: Can The Circle Be Unbroken

1. Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye)

2. Lulu Walls

3. My Clinch Mountain Home

4. Wildwood Flower

5. Worried Man Blues

6. Keep On The Sunny Side

7. Gospel Ship

8. My Texas Girl

9. Sinking In The Lonesome Sea

10. Cannon Ball Blues

11. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

12. River Of Jordan

13. The Storms Are On The Ocean

14. On The Rock Where Moses Stood

15. The Little Black Train

16. Single Girl, Married Girl

17. Kissing Is A Crime

18. Blackie's Gunman

19. My Home Among The Hills

20. Black Jack David

x

Track List: Country By The Carter Family

1. Wildwood Flower

2. Cannonball Blues

4. For Lovin' Me

6. Behind Those Stone Walls

7. I Walk The Line

9. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

10. He Thinks I Still Care

11. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

12. Ring Of Fire

14. Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye)

x

Track List: On Border Radio - 1939 - Vol.2

1. Why There Is A Tear In My Eyes

2. Just Another Broken Heart

3. Corina

5. A Broken Down Saint

6. Weeping Willow

7. Gathering Flowers From The Hillside

8. I Wouldn't Mind Dying

9. Who's That Knocking At My Window?

12. Xet Station Break

18. Hello Stranger

19. Cowboy Jack

20. Funny When You Feel That Way

21. Dixie Darling

24. River Of Jordan

25. God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign

26. Theme Out & Xet Station Break

x

Track List: The Essential Carter Family

Disc 1

1. Keep On The Sunny Side

2. The Storms Are On The Ocean

3. Single Girl, Married Girl

4. Little Darling, Pal Of Mine

5. Anchored In Love

6. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man

7. Wildwood Flower

8. I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes

9. My Clinch Mountain Home

10. Lula Walls

11. Diamonds In The Rough

12. Engine One-Forty-Three

13. The Foggy Mountain Top

14. The Homestead On The Farm

15. Motherless Children

16. Wabash Cannonball

17. Jimmie Brown The Newsboy

18. Worried Man Blues

19. The Cannon-Ball

20. Lonesome Valley

Disc 2

1. On The Rock Where Moses Stood

2. Lonesome For You

3. Can't Feel At Home

4. Where We'll Never Grow Old

5. The Winding Stream

6. I Never Will Marry

7. Gold Watch And Chain

8. It'll Aggravate Your Soul

9. I'll Be All Smiles Tonight

10. The East Virginia Blues

11. I'm Working On A Building

12. Sad And Lonesome Day

13. Gospel Ship

14. There'll Be No Distinction There

15. Black Jack David

16. Bear Creek Blues

17. You've Got To Righten That Wrong

18. Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room

19. Keep On The Firing Line

20. Can The Circle Be Unbroken (78rpm Version)

Comments

Report as inappropriate
They got it started. They are truly pioneers in the country music genre.
Report as inappropriate
They don't make good music like this no more with this much soul gotta love the carter family
Report as inappropriate
The history of country music right here.
Report as inappropriate
I love their music....... . . . . . K a t h e r i n e Sophia...... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Report as inappropriate
Pure, honest, wonderful, real music. Really getting back to the roots.
Report as inappropriate
I just love the Carter family
Report as inappropriate
Best family band
Report as inappropriate
my dear Mother Mabel Larkey McKay, grew up in Mace Springs, Va. and was friends with AP Carter. My Grand Ma Larkey,( Alice ), is buried in the : Mount Vernon Vernon Methodest cemetery. a beautifull place. use to love to take my Mother over there to visit, wonderfull memories . larry McKay, Cayce, sc
Report as inappropriate
I agree originals! Along with Jimmie Rodgers!
Report as inappropriate
They are truly originals. Along with the Blue Yodeler, they were the beginning of it all.
Report as inappropriate
I wasn't familiar with there history until I read the Bio, I knew of the Carter
Family threw June Carter and Johnny Cash. I Love their music . God bless them for their contribution to history and to the enrichment of a million lives R.Walker
Report as inappropriate
stephen - i am glad that you nicked lifes door and lived to tell.
Report as inappropriate
Stephen- WHAAAAT???
Report as inappropriate
I have came into the world with a Bang. It was reveald to me in the early part of my life. I have learnd the majice in life in the comming of a silance man. It reveald it's light in the begaining of my teens And I was fifteen when I was tested in living a life as a Disabled. Thats right I nicked lifes door I was in a coma and a massive head injury, I when I had my injury, I was out for months on end. Giving time for my brain to heel and get back to the life i was living before the instance
Report as inappropriate
i love the Carter family, they make me feel like i am in Earlville ny again..
Report as inappropriate
debbierobert s 2
The Carter family was just like jewel. Locked up in the attic like a valuable piece of jewelry
Report as inappropriate
EVERY BODY THATS PICKED UP A GUITAR USUALLY LEARNS TO PLAY THE WILDWOOD FLOWERS AFTER THIS LONG ITS STILLA PRETY SONG
Report as inappropriate
brings tears to the eyes
Report as inappropriate
the carter family should be locked up down in the basement of fort knox.

just kidding.
Report as inappropriate
You can still see and hear the Carter's at their homeplace in Hilton, VA. The Carter Family Fold features accoustic only performances throughout the summer.
Report as inappropriate
the very best,..
Report as inappropriate
Having seen Joe and Jeanette on stage at the Carter Fold, it is a real treat to listen to the original Carter Family members sing. Wish we could have met them as well, but some passed before we were old enough to enjoy them.

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