Sara Carter was born Sara Dougherty on this day, July 21, in 1898, just north of Copper Creek, Wise County, Virginia. She was one of five children born to Sevier and Elizabeth Dougherty.
One day when Sara was sixteen, she was standing in the front room of her Aunt Susie Nickels’ house in Copper Creek. She was playing her autoharp and singing “Engine 143,” an old song she’d learned as a little girl. A knock came at the door.
It was Alvin Pleasant Carter from Clinch Mountain. He had been walking towards the house, having come to see if Mrs. Nickels, his mother’s cousin’s mother, would be interested in buying a fruit tree or two from the nursery that he worked for. The singing he had heard coming from inside the house had quickened his step. Aunt Susie let him in.
After entering the front room, A.P. listened, watched and waited for Sara to finish her song. He said: “Ma’am, that was might pretty playing and singing, and I sure would like you to play that over again for me.” So Sara did.
A.P. Carter and Sara Dougherty were married on June 18, 1915.
Starting around December of 1925, Sara and A.P. put together a trio with Sara’s young cousin and sister-in-law, Maybelle Addington Carter. Maybelle played guitar and sang, A.P. “bassed in” and played a little bit of guitar. Sara played autoharp, second guitar and sang lead. They called themselves “The Carter Family.”
On July 31, 1927, The Carter Family drove the 26 miles from Maces Springs, VA to Bristol, TN. They had an audition the next day, August 1, for Ralph Peer, the traveling talent scout for Victor Records. In his later years, Peer would say: “As soon as I heard Sara’s voice, that was it. I knew it was going to be wonderful.”
On November 4, 1927, Victor Records released the first record by The Carter Family. The song on one side was “Poor Orphan Child,” with vocals by Sara and A.P. The song on the other side was “Wandering Boy,” with guitar and autoharp and vocals by Sara alone.
Sara Dougherty Carter passed away on January 8, 1979 in California.
The information and quotes in this post came from the wonderful book: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? by Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg, 2002.