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Singer and guitarist Mother Maybelle Carter began performing with The Carter Family in the 1920s and influenced country and folk music for decades to come.
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From 1946 to 1948, the all-female family quartet became a fixture on the Richmond, Virginia, radio program The Old Dominion Barn Dance.
Then in 1948, they moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to join the legendary country guitarist Chet Atkins on WNOX radio station. In 1950, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters moved to Nashville with Atkins to appear regularly on the nation's most popular country music radio show, The Grand Ole Opry.
Although her musical career slowed down considerably after the 1950s, Maybelle continued to record and perform throughout the 1960s and 1970s as one of the elder statesmen of country music. In 1966, she and Sara recorded the now-classic album An Historic Reunion: Sara and Maybelle, the Original Carters. In 1968, the singer and songwriter Johnny Cash married Maybelle's daughter June, bringing even more attention to the family. Throughout the late 1960s and late 1970s, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters made frequent appearances on Cash's tours and on ABC's Johnny Cash Show.
Mother Maybelle Carter passed away on October 23, 1978, at the age of 69. One of the creative forces behind The Carter Family, Maybelle stands out as a legendary pioneer of modern country music. She was a key figure in transforming an oral tradition of folk songs into one of America's most popular musical genres. As one of country music's first great lead guitarists and the inventor of the "Carter Scratch," she made a profound impact on the development of American popular music that shapes country, folk and rock music to this day.
The Carter Family was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, and in 2005 posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Summing up her mother and the original Carter Family's contribution to country music, June Carter Cash said, "They had so many tunes that formed a basis for Country Western music as we know it today. And when people didn't know what kind of melody to use, they just went back and grabbed that old Carter Family melody and hung on to that."
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In the 1920s, women like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were the first—and for a while, the only—artists to record the blues. American women of this era made great strides toward gaining equality and basic human rights for themselves and others in society, including attaining the right to vote and working toward social justice. The 20th century was a wide-open opportunity for women to embrace the modern world, outside of the traditional bounds of the home.
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