A This Historic Day In Music Double Header: Maybelle Carter & “Wildwood Flower”

The first part of this post is a replay of a piece I wrote on May 11, 2010 under the title Yesterday In Music History. I’ve added the section about “Wildwood Flower” and an embedded YouTube “video” featuring the Carter Family’s original recording for your listening pleasure.

“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.”

That was 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 one of the primary influences of Bob Dylan.

And who did Bob Dylan influence?

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

“Everyone.”

Maybelle Carter passed away on October 23, 1978.

The Carter Family recorded “Wildwood Flower” for Victor Records on May 10, 1928 in Camden, N.J., in the Trinity Baptist Church. In the photo below, that’s Maybelle on the left, holding her big Gibson guitar. Sara Carter, the vocalist on “Wildwood Flower,” is seated on the right. A.P. Carter is in the middle. On the recording, 19-year-old Maybelle plays the guitar during the introduction and throughout this famous song.

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