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Timeline: the Carter Family's Role in Country Music

1891-1930s | 1931-1979  


A.P. Carter Family photo A.P. Carter is born in Poor Valley (known now as Maces Springs), Virginia, the first of eight children of Robert and Mollie Bays Carter. Nearly struck by lightning during her pregnancy, Mollie forever after will ascribe A.P.'s tremor, and the quaver for which his singing will become known, to that near miss.


Ralph Peer is born in Independence, Missouri, the son of a furniture retailer. After serving in the navy in World War I, Peer goes to work first for the General Phonograph Company and later for the Victor Company, in whose service he eventually discovers the Carter family.


July 21: Sara Dougherty is born in Wise County, Virginia, to Sevier and Elizabeth Kilgore Dougherty. Sara's mother will die when Sara is three years old, and her father leads a nomadic existence, traveling around staying with relatives. Sara will be left with her uncle and aunt, Milburn and Melinda Nickels, in Copper Creek, Virginia, over the mountain from the Carters' ancestral home in Poor Valley.

early 1900s

A.P. grows up surrounded by music, performing in the church quartet and helping his uncle, Flanders Bays, with his traveling singing school. On her side of the mountain, Sara is learning to sing and play the autoharp.


May 10: Maybelle Addington is born in Midway, Virginia, near Sara's adopted home in Copper Creek. As a child, she learns to play banjo and guitar, later inventing the guitar-picking style that will become known as the "Carter scratch."


A.P. Carter A.P. goes to Richmond, Indiana, to work on the railroad, with the idea of earning money to buy a farm back home. But instead he comes down with typhoid fever, and returns to Poor Valley broke and dispirited.


While working as a salesman for his uncle, who is then selling trees and shrubs for a nursery, A.P. walks over the mountain to Rich Valley to make a sale to his Aunt Susie. As he approaches the house, he hears, then sees, Sara Dougherty singing. He falls in love with Sara instantly.


June 18: Sara and A.P. are married, and A.P. takes Sara back to his home in Poor Valley. A few years later, they will move to a larger house and farm up the hill in Maces Springs, where they participate in the church choir and other local musical events. They will eventually have three children together: Gladys Ettaleen, Janette, and Joe.


Sara and A.P. borrow a car to drive to Charlottesville, Virginia. On the way back, the car breaks down, and they manage to raise enough money putting on a concert in a nearby schoolhouse to get the car fixed.


Ezra Carter, A.P.'s brother December 13: Maybelle Addington goes to Maces Springs to do a schoolhouse show with A.P. and Sara. On that trip she meets A.P.'s dashing brother Ezra, known as Eck. They fall in love, and will be married the following March.


A.P. and Sara audition for a Brunswick record scout in Kingsport, Tennessee, but he passes them over because Sara -- not A.P. -- is the lead singer. The scout tells them that a musical group with a female lead singer will never sell.


July: A.P. sees an announcement in the local newspaper for auditions being held by the Victor Company in Bristol, Tennessee. He borrows his brother's car and takes Sara and Maybelle to try out. They record six songs over the course of two days, and return to Maces Springs $300 richer. The Bristol Sessions is the beginning of the Carters' long association with the Victor executive and record scout Ralph Peer, and the beginning of their careers as professional musicians. These sessions will also launch the career of Jimmie Rodgers.

November: Victor releases the first two songs from the Bristol session, "Poor Orphan Girl" and "Wandering Boy," followed a few months later by "The Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Single Girl, Married Girl." The songs sell so well that Peer, realizing the Carters' star potential, summons them for a second recording session in Camden, New Jersey.


May: The Carter family travels to New Jersey for its second recording session with Victor. Among the songs they record is "Wildwood Flower," which will be named by National Public Radio decades later as one of the 100 "most important American musical works of the twentieth century."


February: The Carters return to Camden for a third recording session. As in the previous Camden session, Peer pays them $50 per song, plus royalties on copyrightable songs.

October 29: The stock market crashes on Black Tuesday. The irrecoverable financial losses will lead to an economic slowdown, growing unemployment, and soon, the Great Depression.

The Carters' records have sold over 700,000 copies.

Early 1930s

The quack physician and entrepreneur John Romulus Brinkley moves to Del Rio, Texas, and founds a radio station, XERA, just over the Rio Grande in Mexico. Brinkley's innovation will inspire a number of copycat stations, giving rise to the phenomenon of "border radio."

1891-1930s | 1931-1979  

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