Yesterday in Music History: Maybelle Carter

“She’d hook that right thumb under that big bass string and just like magic the other fingers moved fast like a threshing machine, always on the right strings, and out came the lead notes and the accompaniment at the same time. The left hand worked in perfect timing, and the frets seemed to pull those nimble fingers to the very place where they were supposed to be, and the guitar rang clear and sweet with a mellow touch that made you know it was Maybelle playing the guitar.”

June Carter Cash describing her mother, Maybelle Carter, playing the guitar.

Maybelle Addington Carter was born on May 10, 1909 in Nicklesville, Virginia. While still a teenager, she played guitar and sang back-up in a trio with Sara Carter, her cousin, and A.P.Carter, Sara’s husband. Sara sang lead and played autoharp and guitar. A.P. sang bass. The group was known as the Carter Family.

On August 1, 1927, in Bristol, Tennessee, the Carter Family made their first recordings for Ralph Peer, a traveling talent scout for Victor Records. From then until 1943, when A.P. and Sara left the group, the Carter Family recorded hundreds of songs and sold millions of records.

Thanks to those records and several years of live radio broadcasts, Maybelle’s guitar style, her “Carter Scratch,” was heard all over the country and adopted by generations of guitar players.

To try to put the extent and importance of her influence simply:

Maybelle Carter was Woody Guthrie’s favorite guitar player.

Woody Guthrie was the primary influence of Bob Dylan.

And who did Bob Dylan influence?

Well, as a student said when I posed that question in class one day:


Maybelle Carter passed away on October 23, 1978.

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1 Response to Yesterday in Music History: Maybelle Carter

  1. Tom Savage says:

    I’m really enjoying these glimpses into the roots of American music.

    My father, as you know was a great fan of early, rural country music. His all time favorite was Jimmie Rodgers, “The Singing Brakeman”, who died of TB at only 36 years old. I remember listening one day to some of these old recordings, and on a couple of them, Jimmie “paid a visit” to the Carter family, and they did a couple of songs together.

    It’s too bad, I dont’ have any of that old vinyl of my dad’s . My mother gave it all away to Danny’s father after dad died….


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