Best Known For
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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"But music I'd say was what done it." In addition to Joe (born in 1927), A.P. and Sara Carter also had two other children, Gladys and Janette, born in 1919 and 1923, respectively.
While still living in Poor Valley, A.P. and Sara Carter traveled throughout the mid-Atlantic to represent their church and town at local and regional singing competitions, finding considerable success. By the mid-1920s, they were also joined regularly in their performances by Maybelle Addington, Sara's cousin,
a skilled singer in her own right and also a brilliant guitarist. In 1926, Maybelle married Carter's brother Ezra, cementing the trio's family ties, and from that point on they were known simply as The Carter Family.
For the next year, The Carter Family's musical career remained limited to local gigs as the band performed primarily at schoolhouses and small social gatherings. Their big break came in July 1927, when they received word that Ralph Peer, a musical talent scout working for the phonograph manufacturer Victor, was holding an open audition and recording session in Bristol, Tennessee. Although Maybelle Carter was seven months pregnant at the time, A.P. Carter nevertheless convinced the family to make the 18-hour car trip to the audition, traveling along rough dirt roads through the oppressive summer heat. In Bristol, The Carter Family recorded six songs, including the country music classics "Poor Orphan Child," "Wandering Boy," and "The Storms Are on the Ocean." In November 1927, these songs were released to the public as monophonic records on the Victor label and sold remarkably well, exceeding even Peer's high expectations for the talented trio.
In addition to giving The Carter Family their big break, Peer's 10-day stop in Bristol (known ever after in country music lore as "The Bristol Sessions") also launched the career of country music legend Jimmie Rodgers. These sessions are considered by many to be the foundational moment in the history of modern country music.
The Carter Family's success was rooted in their ability to transform the Appalachian region's long tradition of folk and church music, passed down orally from generation to generation, into recorded music for popular consumption. In order to find new songs to perform, A.P. Carter traveled all around Appalachia, stopping at farms and taverns to learn the local folk songs and at churches to learn each community's favorite religious music. Despite the pervasive racism of the Jim Crow South, Carter frequently traveled with a black friend named Lesley Riddle. Largely due to Riddle's influence, The Carter Family incorporated much African-American church music into their repertoire. Carter then shared the songs he learned on his travels with Sara and Maybelle, who "updated" them by adding layered harmonies and instrumentation for the autoharp and guitar.
The Carter Family's music was revolutionary in many respects. They were among the first popular music groups to have a female lead singer (Sara) and to use the guitar (played by Maybelle) as the lead instrument.
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