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The Cater – Their music lifted the nation’s spirits during the darkest days of the Depression. Their songs capture the joys and tragedies of everyday life: love won and lost, dreams achieved and broken, breakups and reunions. Their original sound, first heard 75 years ago in a makeshift recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee, continues to resonate across America.
This hour-long documentary from Emmy Award-winning producer Kathy Conkright explores the lives of AP, Sarah and Mabel Carter, beginning with their childhood in Poor Valley, Virginia, and follows their story through the early 1940s, when they stopped playing and recording together. . . The film features rarely seen family photos, memorabilia and archival footage that chronicles the life and music of this famous and influential trio. Narrated by Robert Duvall.
“Through this film, I wanted to chronicle the Carter family’s amazing contribution to American music,” said Conkright “Their lyrics and style have been widely copied in American folk and country music and have influenced artists of all genres.” Artists Marty Stewart, Gillian Welch, Rodney Crowell, Ralph Stanley and Joan Baez appear in the film along with AP and Sarah Carter’s children Janet and Joe (who died in March 2005) and granddaughter Rita Forrester.
A Unique Collaboration
Sarah, her husband AP. And sister-in-law Mabel lived the poverty and heartbreak of the poor rural Americans they sang about. Through music, they bring a dignity and understanding to an often misunderstood culture. Carter family songs like Wildwood Flower, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Worried Man Blues laid the foundation for country, folk, and bluegrass music.
Their simple, memorable tunes expressed complex lives. A. P. And Sara’s marriage was under constant strain due to A.P.’s consuming drive and ambition. Throughout the 1930s, as the Carter Family Trio achieved success and popularity with songs such as Keep on the Sunny Side, Eppie roamed remote valleys and hillsides, knocking on shacks and cabin doors in search of new tunes. During his prolonged absence, Sara A.P. Its first cousin Coy was deeply in love with Bess. Although AP and Sarah eventually separated, the trio continued a professional relationship.
Carter Family songs have been performed and recorded by some of America’s best-known, most popular musicians: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt. and Sheryl Crow, among others.
“The story of the Carter family encompasses much more than just music history,” said American Experience Executive Producer Mark Samels. “Their songs gave voice to women, rural America and Depression-era families. They formed the roots of American music.”
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Narrator: Their songs of love and loss, despair and joy comfort a nation in its dark days of despair and bring a rare dignity to rural Appalachia culture.
June Carter Cash, daughter of Mabel and Ezra: They had many tunes that laid the foundation for our country western music as we know it today.
Gillian Welch, musician: I have a hard time picturing American music, and indeed world music, without the Carter family.
Narrator: America knew them as models of domestic bliss. But their real-life story had all the makings of a song: betrayal, loss and death.
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Narrator: More than 60 years ago this house served as the backdrop for the Carter family as they proudly posed for the country’s most popular weekly magazine. The Sangeet family will be featured on the cover of the next issue of “Life Magazine”.
Mark Jaunitzer, author: They were at the top of their game they were known across America, they were in people’s homes on the radio day in and day out.
Narrator: The patriarch of the Carter family, AP Carter, worked toward this moment for 15 years. It meant recognition of himself, his family and their music.
Rita Forrester, granddaughter of AP and Sarah Carter: She played a role in everything that happened. It was his ambition, his drive, his energy that made them do what they did.
Jimmy Carter, 98, Opts For Hospice Care
MARTY STEWART, MUSICIAN: If you look at country music like it’s a musical bible, I’d say he’d be in Genesis. Where God says, “In the beginning, God created A.P Carter”.
Narrator: He brought together the most influential groups in American country and roots music. With Sarah’s vocals, Mabel’s guitar, and A.P.’s arrangements, the Carter family helped lay the foundation for modern music.
Janet Carter, daughter of AP and Sarah: They sang the blues, they sang gospel, they sang old time. But everything they did had a touch of the Carter family.
Narrator: But as demand for their music grew, so did the AP Carter family’s tensions.
Watch The Carter Effect
Marty Stewart: He was tuned into another place, and it was probably stressful at times for other family members, not being able to count on a consistent daily life routine. But I’m glad he listened to what he heard, which gave us the songs that, you know, he found or wrote. I think he was a visionary man.
Narrator: AP Carter’s vision brought Life magazine to his doorstep. But his moment of greatest triumph was not what he had dreamed.
MARK JOENITZER: All the drive and all the push and all the effort to create this first family of country music cost him more, you know, than he could have imagined or imagined.
Carter Family Singing, Archival Film: May the Circle Be Unbroken, Bye and Bye Lord, Bye and Bye. There is a better home than waiting, the Lord is in the sky.
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Carter Family Sings, Archival Film: I fear men’s hearts are failing, for these are the last days as we know them. The Great Depression is now spreading. God’s word declares it shall be so. I am going where there is no depression, to that lovely land that is carefree. I will leave this world of toil and suffering. My home is in heaven, and I’m going there.
Narrator: At the turn of the 20th century, the peaceful beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains masked the harsh lives of its inhabitants. In the shadow of Clinch Mountain, Virginia’s poor valley people still lived as their ancestors had. The Carters worked the land since the Revolutionary War.
Mark Jaunitzer: AP Carter was born in a tough place. He was born in 1891 in the poor valley of Virginia, which honestly gets its name. It was without the great cultivated lands of the farming community, life was hard, life was hard. People die prematurely for no reason. There was not much justice in the plan.
Carter Family Gunning, archival film: In that bright land there shall be no hunger, no orphaned child shall cry for bread, shall cry…
Cater House (1965) Revisited
Marty Stewart: Music in the poor valley, Virginia was like a healer, I think it was a great communicator. It was a reason to come together and be good neighbors and family. It was a reason to worship, it was a reason to hope, and it was a reason to talk about hard times.
Narrator: Born into this rich musical tradition, AP Carter would make it his life’s mission to take his remote valley songs to the wider world. It was his mother, Molly Carter, who planted the seeds of ambition before he was born.
Mark Jonitzer: She was eight months pregnant with him. He got caught in a storm and a bolt of lightning came down and played at his feet and he was sure that bolt of light was the reason the child always had that nervous energy.
Janet Carter: She claimed she was marked by that lightning bolt. He said, when he was born, his hands trembled; They shook him all his life.
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Mark Jonitzer: AP was a weird, weird kid, not only did he have tremors, he had a hard time staying still.
Janet Carter: My father could barely write, his hands were shaking, his writing was very, very bad so his mother took him out of school because the children would laugh at him.
Female Voiceover: He was obviously very sensitive and he couldn’t allow that so he didn’t let her stay at school.
Carter Family Singing, archival film: Everyone must walk that lonely valley. They have to walk it by themselves. No one can walk for them here, they have to walk by themselves.
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Mark Jonitzer: Music was sustenance for AP. Perhaps he needed music like oxygen. It was really what kept him going, it filled his days and nights, it filled his lonely time, which was most of the time.
Mark Jaunitzer: There came a point when his voice started to change when he was a young man and the tremor in his voice, the tear they called in the valley, turned it into a beautiful church voice.
Carter family singing, archival film: But something got me, yes something got me. I went there to fight. But that night, something grabbed me.
Mark Jonitzer: Uncle Flanders Bass features him as a member of the High Church Quartet. It was there that he really got his first recognition.
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Narrator: The mark that seemed like a curse to a child, now gives AP Carter the ability to distinguish himself as an adult.
Mark Jonitzer: If you spend your life growing up and being your mother
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