The original Carter Family, consisting of A. P. Carter, Sara Doughtery, and A. P.’s sister-in-law, Mother Maybelle Addington Carter from Virginia, was one of the most influential groups in mountain music, switching emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals. They made their songs part of the standard country music repertoire and developed a particular guitar style that is used as a building block, taken to a higher technical level by musicians even today.

The Carter Family

The Carter Family was a country music group that made their first recording for Ralph Peer in 1827 during the famed Bristol recordings on the Victor label and continued to record until 1956. Their music, representative of the southeastern musical heritage, had a profound influence on bluegrass, blues, country and southern gospel and during the folk revival of the 1960s.

While traveling through the South in his teens and early twenties selling fruit trees and collecting songs, Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter met his wife Sara Doughtery making their home in Maces Spring, Va. The original Family consisted of A.P. Carter who played fiddle and sang, Sara who played autoharp and sang alto lead, and A.P.’s sister-in-law Mother Maybelle Addington Carter who played guitar and sang harmony.

With their first recording, Peer recognized that the combination of their “wholesome moralistic” songs, Sara’s voice and Mother Maybelle’s guitar playing made them not only marketable in that time but their large collection of traditional songs a treasure in itself. They were famous for the kind of harmony singing found for many years in music of their times but perhaps the so-called “Carter lick” played on the guitar by Mother Maybelle became the best know picking style in the genre of music. In fact, prior to the introduction of the “Carter lick” the guitar had rarely been used as a lead or solo instrument. Her interweaving of melodic line on the bass strings has become a staple of steel string guitar players and flat pickers such as Doc Watson, Clarence White and Norman Blake. They were influenced by Mother Maybelle taking her style to a more technical level.

Despite their achievements, the Carter Family never found the financial success of their peers such as Jimmy Rodgers or Gene Autry because they never crossed over to the more popular network radio, Hollywood films or vaudeville. Time and again they would return to their precious Clinch Mountain Valley confused or disgusted by the show business world.

Their first recording “bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” an old folk tune, their theme song, “Keep on the Sunny Side” and other recordings such as “wildwood Flower”, “Wabash Cannonball” and “Worried Man Blues” have become country standards. They worked at XERA, Del Rio, TX in the mid-30s, which broadcasted across the border making them an early international favorite. After their last radio show was performed in 1942 Maybelle Carter, often referred to as the “Queen of Country Music,” continued the Carter tradition with her daughters, Anita, Helen and June.

The Carter Family became a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 and given the nickname “The First Family of Country Music.” In 1988 they were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and received an award for “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” In 1993 the US Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring A.P., Sara and Maybelle. In 2001 they were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and in 2005 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

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