Maybelle Carter

Maybelle Carter
Birth name Maybelle Addington
Born (1909-05-10)May 10, 1909
Nickelsville, Virginia
Died October 23, 1978(1978-10-23) (aged 69)
Hendersonville, Tennessee
Genres Gospel music, country music
Instruments Guitar "1928 Gibson L5", banjo, autoharp
Years active 1927–1978

"Mother" Maybelle Carter (May 10, 1909 – October 23, 1978) was an American country musician.[1] She is best known as a member of the historic Carter Family act in the 1920s and 1930s and also as a member of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.[2]


Maybelle Carter was born Maybelle Addington on May 10, 1909 in Nickelsville, Virginia, the daughter of Hugh Jackson Addington and Margaret S. Kilgore. According to family lore, the Addington family of Virginia is descended from former British prime minister Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth.[3]

On March 13, 1926, Maybelle married Ezra Carter. They had three daughters, Helen, Valerie June (better known in later life as June Carter Cash), and Anita.[2]

She was a member of the original Carter Family, which was formed in 1927 by her brother-in-law, A. P. Carter, who was married to her cousin, Sara, also a part of the trio. The Carter Family was one of the first commercial rural country music groups. Maybelle, who played autoharp and banjo as well as being the group's guitarist, created a unique sound for the group with her innovative 'scratch' style of guitar playing, where she used her thumb to play melody on the bass and middle strings, and her index finger to fill out the rhythm.[2] Although Maybelle herself had first picked up this technique from the guitarist Lesley Riddle,[4][5][6] it became widely known as Carter Family picking, an indication of the group's pivotal role in popularizing the style.

Perhaps the most remarkable of Maybelle's many talents was her skill as a guitarist. She revolutionized the instrument's role by developing a style in which she played melody lines on the bass strings with her thumb while rhythmically strumming with her fingers. Her innovative technique, to this day known as the Carter Scratch, influenced the guitar's shift from rhythm to lead instrument.
Holly George-Warren[7]

She was widely respected and loved by the Grand Ole Opry community of the early 1950s, and was popularly known as "Mother Maybelle" and a matriarchal figure in country music circles although only in her forties at the time. Maybelle and her daughters toured during the 1950s and 1960s as "Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters" but after the death of A. P. Carter in 1960 the group revived the name "The Carter Family", frequently touring with Johnny Cash (her son-in-law from 1968 on); the group were regular performers on Cash's weekly network variety show from 1969–71. Maybelle briefly reunited with former Carter Family member, Sara Carter, during the 1960s folk music craze, with Sara singing lead and Maybelle providing harmony as before.

Maybelle Carter made occasional solo recordings during the 1960s and 1970s, usually full-length albums. Her final such work, a two-record set released on Columbia Records, placed on Billboard's best-selling country albums chart in 1973 when she was 64. Maybelle was also featured on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1972 recording Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Maybelle Carter died in 1978 after a few years of poor health, and was interred next to her husband, Ezra, in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, Hendersonville, Tennessee. All three of their daughters, "The Carter Sisters" – Helen, June, and Anita – are buried nearby in the same cemetery.[8]


Carter's Gibson guitar, accompanied by a photograph of Carter at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Maybelle Carter was inducted as part of The Carter Family in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970.[9]

In 1993, her image appeared on a U.S. postage stamp honoring the Carter Family. In 2001 she was initiated into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. She would rank No. 8 in CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002. In 2005, she was portrayed by Sandra Ellis Lafferty in the Johnny Cash biographical film Walk the Line.

She was the subject of her granddaughter Carlene Carter's 1990 song "Me and the Wildwood Rose".

Her death was the subject of Johnny Cash's song "Tears in the Holston River".

In 2010, Lipscomb University in Nashville named the stage in Collins Alumni Auditorium after her.

The A. P. and Sara Carter House, A. P. Carter Homeplace, A. P. Carter Store, Maybelle and Ezra Carter House, and Mt. Vernon Methodist Church are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as components of the Carter Family Thematic Resource.[10][11]

In 2007 Carter was honored as one of the Library of Virginia's "Virginia Women in History" because of her musical career.[12]

Solo albums discography


Year Album US Country Label
1960Mother Maybelle Carter Ambassador Records
1963Mother Maybelle and Her Autoharp Smash Records
1963Pickin' and Singin'
1964Queen of the Autoharp Kapp Records
1965A Living Legend Columbia Records
1973Mother Maybelle Carter44

Guest singles

Year Single Artist Peak positions Album
US Country
1973 "Pick the Wildwood Flower" Johnny Cash 34 N/A


  1. Olson, Ted. "Carter, Maybelle (1909–1978)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 2016-05-04.
  2. 1 2 3 Zwonitzer, Mark; Hirshberg, Charles (2004). Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-4382-X.
  3. Cash, John Carter. Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 10.
  4. Carter, Maybelle (May 30, 2009). Mother Maybelle Carter talks about Autoharps and Fingerpicking (YouTube video) (audio recording). YouTube. Event occurs at 2:20. Retrieved January 26, 2012. I'll play a little bit of a tune here [in] the style that I learned from a colored man that used to come to our house and play guitar, and he played with his finger and his thumb.... His name was [L]esley Riddles.
  5. "The Lesley Riddle Story". 113 Green Mountain Drive, Burnsville, NC: Traditional Voices Group. 2011. [W]hen Seeger was recording Lesley, he could see and hear the similarities between Lesley's picking style and that of Maybelle Carter so he asked him if he ever gave her lessons. Lesley replied, 'No, I didn't have to. She would just watch and learn. She was that good.'
  6. Peterson, Richard A. (November 24, 1997). Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-226-66284-8. Retrieved January 26, 2012. Leslie Riddle, an African American guitar player, ... taught Maybelle Carter how to play melody and pick rhythm on the guitar at the same time—a style for which she became famous.
  7. George-Warren, Holly (1997). "Hillbilly Fillies: The Trailblazers of C&W" quoted in Reddington, Helen (2007). The Lost Women of Rock Music, p.179. ISBN 0-7546-5773-6. Although George-Warren appears to credit Maybelle Carter with originating this technique, in fact Carter originally learned it from a Black guitarist named Leslie Riddle, as noted above.
  8. Carter, "Mother" Maybelle. "Mabelle Carter's Final resting place". Canyouhearmenow. Find A Grave. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  9. Wolfe, Charles. "Carter Family". Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  10. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  11. Carter Family TR
  12. "Virginia Women in History: Maybelle Addington Carter (1909-1978), Scott County, Musician". Library of Virginia. Retrieved 4 March 2015.


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