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A.P. Carter is best known for forming the Carter Family band, which combined traditional Appalachian sounds with a unique guitar style and African American gospel influences.
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Born in rural Kentucky, A.P. Carter was a skilled violinist in and learned to love music early on. With his wife Sara, brother Ezra, and sister-in-law Maybelle, A.P. formed the Carter Family band. Unusual for having a female lead singer and guitar player, the Carter Family grew famous with hits like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Keep On the Sunny Side." A.P. spent much of his time traveling to find musical inspiration, and the Carter Family band remains a legend of country music today.
Singer, guitarist. Alvin Pleasant ("A.P.") Carter was born on December 15, 1891, in Poor Valley (now known as Maces Springs), a small town at the foot of Clinch Mountain at the southwest tip of Virginia. He was the eldest of eight children born to Robert and Mollie Bays Carter, farmers by trade. As a child, A.P. Carter suffered from physical tremors. He was also perpetually restless, a condition his mother ascribed to nearly being struck by lightning late in her pregnancy. Carter also fell in love with music at a very young age. He was a prodigiously skilled violinist and a standout singer in the church choir. During his adolescent years, he worked with his uncle, Flanders Bays, who operated a touring singing school throughout Scott County, Virginia.
Despite his youthful passion for music, Carter assumed that—like his parents and grandparents before him—he would make his living as a farmer. Hoping to save enough money to buy his own plot of land, in 1911 a 19-year-old Carter set out for Richmond, Indiana, to work on the railroads. However, after only a few months he contracted typhoid fever and was forced to return home to Virginia. It was on the train ride back home, in the grips of fever, that Carter wrote his first song, "Clinch Mountain Home," an ode to his hometown:
Carry me back to old Virginie
Back to my Clinch Mountain home;
Carry me back to old Virginie,
Back to my old mountain home.
Once he regained his health, Carter again went to work for his uncle Francis Bayes, who was at that point running a business selling trees and greenery. Carter traveled Scott County, selling and delivering the trees and shrubs. He stayed with local families in the towns he visited, and in return for their hospitality he would entertain them by singing and playing violin and guitar.
One day in 1914, Carter traveled to Copper Creek, a town on the other side of the mountain from Poor Valley, to make a sale. As he approached the house of his destination, Carter heard a beautiful alto voice through an open window, calling to him like the sirens of Greek mythology. The voice, Carter soon discovered, belonged to a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Sara Dougherty. "He thought it was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard," Carter's granddaughter Rita Forrester recalled. "And that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen." Carter and Dougherty quickly fell in love, bonding over their mutual talent for music; the pair married on June 18, 1915. "I really couldn't say what the main thing was that brought them together," Carter's son, Joe, said.
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