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The Legacy of the Carter Family

 

No story about music in Scott County would be complete without mention of the family that made that music famous.

     A. P., Sara, and Maybelle --- the Carter Family.

     The Carter Family legacy is not just a chapter in Scott County music history, but a chapter in United States music history. We may not be able to begin at the very beginning, but we can begin very close to it.

     In 1915, Alvin Pleasant Carter, or A. P., of Mace's Springs, traveled across Clinch Mountain to fetch a bride, Sara Dougherty, from Copper Creek. A. P. was a picker, singer and collector of old English and Irish songs, the basis for much of the mountain music tradition. Sara was a dark-eyed beauty who developed her lovely, low voice singing the old-time hymns which would eventually color· the now-famous Carter Family vocal style.

     Undoubtedly impressed by the example of this beautiful and talented bride from Copper Creek, A. P.'s brother Ezra was destined to become enamored with Sara's cousin, Maybelle Addington. Maybelle was also as talented she was beautiful, accomplished, banjo, autoharp and guitar player.

     Maybelle learned to play guitar when pickers were scarce, and had thus taught herself to play both rhythm and lead parts. innovation would later prove the third cornerstone of the legendary Carter Family style, and a technique that affect the shape of folk and country music to the present day.

     In 1926 Ezra followed his brother's footsteps and crossed the mountain into Copper Creek. When he returned to settle in Mace's Springs near A. P. and Sara, the blue-eyed Maybelle was his wife. And so an exceptional wealth of talent and tradition became concentrated into a small corner of what many of the family simply refer to as "The Valley".

     In 1927 A. P . returned from a trip to Bristol with word that the call was going out for mountain musicians and singers to audition to make records for the Victor label. The three auditioned and won the right to record at the payment of $50 per song.

     That year, a young man named Jimmie Rogers and a new group called The Carter Family produced the first "hits" in this new genre of recorded music, and commercial country music was born.

     In 1928 they were called by Victor to Camden, New Jersey, they recorded such now-classic songs as "Wildwood Flower", "Jo", "Forsaken Love" "Lulu Walls'" "In The Rough" "Little Moses."

     In 1938 the Carter Family went to Del Rio, Texas, where they would begin a four year odyssey on the airwaves. Sponsored by Consolidated Drug Company, the Carter Family would broadcast on border stations XERA, XED and XENT.

     There is an interesting, if not purely speculative piece of scientific trivia which might be connected with the Carter Family here. Contemporary scientists have noticed that all radio signals generated on this planet travel out into space, where, theoretically, they will travel vast distances unless some stronger radio source from somewhere in deep space drowns them out. As such, some scientists have speculated that our earliest radio and television broadcasts might accidentally prove to be the first messages planet earth has sent to any other technologically civilized beings in our galaxy, provided they exist.

     In 1936, first television broadcast in history, the Munich Olympic games, featuring Adolph Hitler as a prime performer for the camera. But border stations the Carter Family broadcast on were 500,000-watt stations, the most powerful in the time. So when and if these reach the distant stars,  the Carter Family signals will be the significantly stronger of the two.

     Without a doubt, most of us would far rather that alien beings think of humans in terms of . the old Carter Family songs than the ravings of a Nazi mad-man. It's pure speculation, but something to think about.

     But back to planet earth, we can only make a long story short.

     In the 1940's the Carter Family would go it's separate ways. Mother Maybelle would eventually go to Richmond and finally come to stay in Nashville with her three daughters, Anita, Helen and June. There she would live, record and perform until the time of her death. June would eventually marry Johnny Cash, a man whose talents Maybelle had great faith in and greatly encouraged in the days before he made it big. Her daughters and grandchildren continue to perform out of Nashville.

     A. P. (having separated from Sara) would return to "The Valley".

 

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