The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist The degree to which Mother Maybelle's guitar playing influenced the next century of country and roots music cannot be overstated. In this playlist, hear her Carter Scratch echo across generations.
NPR logo

The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/748410375/750709347" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist

The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/748410375/750709347" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

She has been called the mother of country music. Maybelle Carter revolutionized how the guitar is played. And even though she's a legend among music historians, she's still not as well-known as artists like Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers. For the series Turning The Tables, NPR Music is highlighting the accomplishments of eight women who formed the foundation of American popular music. Here's Grammy-winning producer April Ledbetter.

APRIL LEDBETTER: Born in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia in 1909, Maybelle Carter grew up playing music at home and in her rural community. In 1927, her cousin Sara's husband A.P. Carter became intrigued by an ad he saw for an upcoming Victor Talking Machine recording session in Bristol, Tenn. He encouraged Maybelle and Sara to take a trip with him so they could audition and possibly record songs as the Carter Family. They ended up recording six songs over two days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINGLE GIRL, MARRIED GIRL")

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) Single girl, single girl, she's going dressed fine.

LEDBETTER: That's Sara singing and Maybelle playing guitar on "Single Girl, Married Girl." The records they made were distributed nationally and gave people an opportunity to hear the musical sounds of Southern Appalachia. Audiences responded well, and soon there was a demand for more country music to be recorded. The sessions at Bristol would become known as the Big Bang of country music.

As the popularity of the Carter Family grew, so did the awareness of Maybelle's unusual guitar playing style, which became known as the Carter scratch.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDWOOD FLOWER")

LEDBETTER: Before then, guitar was often a background rhythm instrument. Maybelle's innovative technique involve playing a baseline while simultaneously playing chords, creating the sound of multiple guitars from just one instrument. "Wildwood Flower" is the most famous example of this technique.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDWOOD FLOWER")

LEDBETTER: The Carter Family changed the way guitar would be used in musical groups from that point forward. Maybelle once said I never dreamed of "Wildwood Flower" hanging on like it has, but it's really been a biscuit for us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDWOOD FLOWER")

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) When I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay.

LEDBETTER: The original Carter Family recorded 292 songs. But by the mid-1930s, their record sales had slowed down. Then came an opportunity to reach an even bigger audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here's that original Carter Family to continue your entertainment.

LEDBETTER: Radio Station XERA in northern Mexico was reported to have a signal that could reach up the Mississippi River into Canada and as far east as Florida and New York City. The Carter Family performed there as often as 10 times a week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO STRANGER")

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) Hello, stranger. Put your loving hand in mine. Hello, stranger. Put your loving hand in mine.

LEDBETTER: XERA was shut down by the Mexican government in early 1941. Two years later, the original Carter Family stopped playing altogether. Still, Maybelle had a dedication to performing and touring, something that was often discouraged for women at the time. She continued until the mid-1970s. Maybelle and Sara Carter were the first women inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their plaque states that the Carter Family is regarded by many as the epitome of country greatness and originators of a much copied style. For NPR News, I'm April Ledbetter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JIMMIE BROWN THE NEWSBOY")

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) I'm very cold and hungry, sir. My clothes are worn and thin. I wander about from place to place. My daily bread, I win.

GREENE: You can listen to April's handpicked playlist of Maybelle Carter's music if you go to our website nprmusic.org.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.