The Carter Family was an influential group of musicians who played a unique brand of country music. They did recordings of their music from 1927 to 1956. Their songs had a significant impact on many different genres of American music, including country, bluegrass, pop, gospel, rock, as well as folk.
The first generation of the Carter family was made up of husband and wife A.P. and Sara Carter, and Maybelle Carter, who was A.P.’s sister-in-law. All the three of them were born in southwest Virginia, and they were profoundly influenced by gospel music when they were growing up. Maybelle’s extraordinary guitar playing skills gave the group a distinctive country and bluegrass sound that set them apart from other popular bands of that time.
The Carter Family recorded their first songs on the 2nd of August, 1927 in an audition that was arranged by Ralph Peer. Their first record was released in the same year by the Victor recording company, and it featured “Wandering Boy” and “Poor Orphan Child”. The following year, another Carter Family record was produced, and the songs in this record, “The Storms Are On The Ocean” and “Single Girl, Married Girl”, became major hits. Later on, the trio went to Camden, New Jersey for a major recording session, which produced some of their most well-known songs, including “Keep On The Sunny Side”, “Can The Circle Be Unbroken”, “Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone”, “Wildwood Flower”, “River of Jordan”, and “Forsaken Love”.
The group did another recording in February, 1929, which included popular songs such as “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes”, “Don’t Forget This Song”, “Grave On The Green Hillside”, and “Engine 143”. In 1930, the total number of Carter Family records sold in the US had exceeded the 300,000 mark.
In 1936, A.P. and Sara’s marriage broke up, but they continued to record and perform together. The group moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1939, and soon after they arrived, A.P. and Sara announced that they were going to retire. The following year, Maybelle started a new group with her daughters June, Helen, and Anita, and the group was named Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters. A.P. formed a group with his children, and they performed together until he passed away in 1960.
It was after A.P.’s death that Maybelle and her daughters changed their group’s name to the Carter Family. Later on, June Carter married popular singer songwriter Johnny Cash, and the Carter Family performed in his revue as well as his television show. For a brief period of time, Maybelle reunited with Sara, and they played together at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival.
The Carter Family’s songs and Maybelle’s innovative techniques on the acoustic guitar influenced many musicians and songwriters from the 1930s to 1970s. They are presently regarded as one of the most influential groups in the history of American country music.