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Film Description

The Carter Family Their music lifted the nation's spirits during the darkest days of the Depression. Their lyrics captured the joys and tragedies of everyday life: loves won and lost, dreams attained and shattered, separations and reunions. Their original sound, first heard 75 years ago in a makeshift recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee, continues to resonate throughout America.

This hour-long documentary by Emmy Award-winning producer Kathy Conkwright explores the lives of A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, starting with their childhood in Poor Valley, Virginia, and following their story through the early 1940s, when they stopped playing and recording together. The film features rarely seen family photographs, memorabilia, and archival footage that chronicles the life and music of this famous and influential trio. Robert Duvall narrates.

"Through this film, I wanted to chronicle the amazing contributions the Carter Family made to American music," says Conkwright. "Their songs and style remain the most copied in American folk and country music, and have influenced artists across all genres." Artists Marty Stuart, Gillian Welch, Rodney Crowell, Ralph Stanley and Joan Baez appear in the film, together with A.P. and Sara Carter's children Janette and Joe (who died in March 2005) and granddaughter Rita Forrester.

Sara, her husband A.P., and sister-in-law Maybelle lived the poverty and heartbreak of the poor rural Americans they sang of. Through music, they brought a dignity and understanding to an often-misunderstood culture. Carter Family songs like Wildwood Flower, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Worried Man Blues laid the foundations for country, folk and bluegrass music.

Their simple, memorable tunes revealed complex lives. A.P. and Sara's marriage was under constant strain due to A.P.'s consuming drive and ambition. Throughout the 1930s, as the Carter Family trio achieved success and popularity with songs such as Keep on the Sunny Side, A.P. scoured remote valleys and mountainsides, knocking on the doors of shacks and cabins, in search of new tunes. During his prolonged absences, Sara fell deeply in love with A.P.'s first cousin, Coy Bays. Although A.P. and Sara eventually separated, the trio continued a professional relationship.

Carter Family songs have been performed and recorded by America's best known, most popular musicians: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt. and Sheryl Crow, among others.

"The story of The Carter Family encompasses so much more than just the history of music," says American Experience executive producer Mark Samels. "Their songs gave a voice to women, rural America, and Depression-era families. They created the roots of American music."

Film Credits

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The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken American Experience

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