For Mother Maybelle

Maybelle Carter blog

Oh he taught me to love him and call me his flower
That was blooming to cheer him through life’s dreary hour
How i long to see him and regret the dark hour
He’s gone and neglected his pale wildwood flower


Today (May 10) is the birthday of Maybelle Addington Carter, who rose to fame in the 1920s along with her cousin and brother-in-law, Sara and A. P. Carter, as the Carter Family.  Following the breakup of that act in the Forties, Maybelle continued touring with her daughters, Anita, Helen and June as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters,” and then took back the name of The Carter Family in the Sixties.  June married Johnny Cash and went on to her own solo and family fame, and Maybelle performed in their acts and on Johnny’s television show.


Mother Maybelle was a quite accomplished instrumentalist as well as vocalist. Her guitar technique was peculiar from the norm — she often played the melody line on the bass strings instead of the tenor side of the guitar, using the tenor strings for rhythm strumming.  Her technique became known as the “Carter scratch,” and brought the guitar forward from a background instrument position to be the lead instrument. And, of course, Maybelle’s performances on the autoharp revolutionized that instrument as well. Instead of sitting with the zither on her lap and doing a simple strum, Maybelle would cradle it in her arms, resting the body on her shoulder; she strummed and played an abbreviated melody line with her right hand while chording the instrument with her left on the buttons.  In the performances I’ve seen on YouTube, this kind of precluded her singing; but it produced some fascinating music, and paved the way for autoharp players of the folk era and later.

If you’re interested, look Maybelle up on YouTube, as I did; there are a number of tapes and recordings preserved there (including one I’m embedding below with one of her best-known songs).  You can also travel to Nashville, to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  She and the original Carter Family were inducted into the Hall in 1970.


I was standing by my window,
On one cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

I said to that undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I hate to see here go

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky


Posted May 10, 2013 by Harper Ganesvoort in Arts, Music

Tagged with , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,910 other followers

%d bloggers like this: