"On October 23, 1978
I lost a loved one
and I confess I cried ...... "

Dear Family and Friends,

Peggy has always told me that to be able to fully know and understand Johnny Cash I had to first know and understand the Carter Family. She has long held great interest in this musical family.

In a tiny cold cabin in Poor Valley, Virginia, in the shade of Clinch Mountain overlooking the Holston River, on December 15, 1891 Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter was born. Referred to as Pleasant in his early years, he was the oldest of seven Carter children. Later he was called either AP or Pleasant. Pleasant was always seen as a little strange. From the day he was born until the day he died, Pleasant had a slight tremor in his hand and in his voice. But he could sing. He was taken to wandering and as he grew, became infatuated with local folklore and music and began to collect songs wherever he went.

In the spring of 1907, a group of fifty plus members of the Methodist Church climbed to a hilltop on the side of Clinch Mountain and dedicated the Mount Vernon Methodist Church. AP Carter, under the direction of his uncle Flanders Bays, proved himself to be the finest bass in the entire congregation.

One day in 1914, while walking the dirt paths of Clinch Mountain, AP came across a house and heard the voice of a young woman singing. Upon going inside, AP found Sara Dougherty, playing autoharp and singing "Engine 143". Alvin Pleasant Carter and Sara Dougherty were married on June 18, 1915, a month before the brides seventeenth birthday. After the ceremony, Pleasant loaded up his wagon and took his bride and her autoharp and returned to Poor Valley and their two room cabin.

For Sara singing was fun. They would make music on the porch of that little cabin on Clinch Mountain and people would amble over and listen. AP began to schedule "entertainments" at schools and churches. For Sara, the music was even more fun when her cousin came to visit from Rich Valley. Maybelle Addington was just a teenager but she had already made herself a queen of the guitar. Maybelle began to perform with Sara and AP. She was already developing a method of picking that would be studied and emulated by musicians for many years to come. She was invited to perform with AP and Sara at a schoolhouse in Maces Springs on December 13, 1925.

One of AP's younger brothers, Ezra "Eck" Carter, was a quiet man but a man on the go. He landed a job as a railway mail clerk and was the first in the valley to own a car, a Model "A" Ford. On that evening of December 13 after the schoolhouse performance, Maybelle Addington fell for the most eligible young bachelor in Poor Valley: Ezra "Eck" Carter. Eck and Maybelle were married on a snowy March 13, 1926. Maybelle and Sara, although cousins were more like sisters. They were best of friends.

AP continued to wander the hills and collect hundreds of songs and continued to book himself, Sara and Maybelle for "entertainments". Sometimes AP would just sit and listen to Sara and Maybelle sing. He knew they were very good together. In July, 1927 AP saw an ad in a store window in Bristol, TN stating that the Victor Company would have a recording device in Bristol for 10 days to record local talent. On July 31, 1927 AP, Sara and Maybelle (eight months pregnant) loaded into Eck's car and headed to Bristol.

On the evening of August 1, 1927 AP, Sara and Maybelle Carter, The Original Carter Family, in the presence of producer Ralph Peer, recorded several songs of private and personal pain from hard life in the mountains of Virginia. As soon as Mr. Peer heard the voices he began to build around them. Yet, after recording six songs, neither Ralph Peer nor The Carter Family had any idea what they had started. In early 1928 Victor released Sara's haunting recording of Single Girl, Married Girl on the B side of a 78. It must have caught a wave, because people bought that record in droves.

The following spring, Ralph Peer called the Carters to New Jersey to record again. In this session they recorded several more songs, including "Keep on the Sunny Side", "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone", "Little Darlin' Pal of Mine", "John Hardy" (later recorded by Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Manfred Mann) and "Wildwood Flower" (which was the first song a young Perry Como learned to play) and was named as one of the most important and influential songs of the century. (Many years later, in the movie Walk The Line, June Carter, as played by actress Reese Whitherspoon, sings "Wildwood Flower" and attributes it to be her mother Maybelle Carter's favorite song.) If, after those first two recording sessions, AP, Sara and Maybelle had never recorded another song, their influence upon modern American music would have still been monumental.

But they did continue to record and perform. They sold millions of copies through the Victor Recording Company. Sara, did not care for the publicity and the demands of notoriety and had great conflict in her marriage to AP. During the years of their public rise, AP and Sara separated and divorced. The only thing that would bring them together was their recording and performing.

In 1936, John Romulus Brinkley built a radio station transmitter in Villa Acuna Mexico just over the river and across the border from Del Rio Texas and began to broadcast, out of the reach of the U.S. Federal Radio Commission, with five-hundred-thousand-watts of transmission power on XERA. He was able to reach the entire United States and into Canada. In 1938 Brinkley brought The Carter Family to Del Rio and they began to be heard in homes across North America.

In a sharecroppers cabin in Dyess, Arkansas, a young boy named JR Cash would listen to those live broadcasts and dream of singing to the world.

One night, while performing on live radio, on XERA, Sara Carter sent out a dedication to an old love, Coy Bays, with whom she had an affair back in Poor Valley six years earlier and who was now living in California. She sang "I'm Thinking Tonight of my Blue Eyes". Coy heard the dedication and drove all night to Texas. Within 3 weeks he and Sara were married.

In November 1941, Life Magazine travelled to Clinch Mountain Virginia and did a photo shoot and article about the Original Carter Family that was to be the cover story of their magazine, the second week of December. The story featured the musical legacy and the superficial bliss of the Carters but did not delve into the fractures below the surface. On December 7, 1941, four days before Life Magazine was to publish their story, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii changed everything and The Original Carter Family was overshadowed by a world at war.

Sara travelled back East on several occasions to record music but in the spring of 1943 recorded her last performance. The Original Carter Family abruptly disappeared from public life.

Maybelle Carter, supported by her husband Eck, continued to perform with her three girls, Helen, Anita and June under the Carter Family name. They toured and performed with a crop of new young singers including Hank Williams, Elvis Presley (who began calling Maybelle, Mother Maybelle), Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

In 1967 Johnny Cash's world hit rock bottom and he began the arduous labor of kicking his addiction to prescription drugs, Eck, Maybelle and June Carter proved to be a powerful healing force that Johnny Cash later attributed to saving his life.

Johnny Cash and June Carter were married in 1968.

As Johnny Cash's star rose, he brought Mother Maybelle and The Carter Family into his touring group and they were often guests on his weekly TV show in 1969-1970. Of Eck and Mother Maybelle's three girls, Anita Carter probably had the strongest, clearest, most powerful voice and she often sang background harmony in many of Johnny Cash's recordings.

The last album that Maybelle Carter recorded, after 50 years in the business, was a venture with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and titled Will The Circle Be Unbroken, hearkening back to the bedrock song, brought to the world by AP Carter and The Original Carter Family.

In late 2002, Johnny Cash, along with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, recorded Tears In The Holston River, as a tribute to both his mother-in-law Maybelle Carter and her cousin Sara Carter. At the time, Johnny Cash was 70 years old and within months of both June's and his own death. You can hear his age and the mellowing in his voice and in his music, yet this is still essential Cash. The man moves my soul. I send along the soundtrack for your listening pleasure and enjoyment.