The Library of Virginia

Maybelle Addington Carter (1909-1978), Scott County, Musician

Maybelle Addington Carter
A founding member of the Carter Family, a highly influential early country music group, Maybelle Addington Carter was a pioneering guitarist and performer.

Born in the Copper Creek community in Scott County, Maybelle Addington Carter (May 10, 1909-October 23, 1978) learned to play the banjo, guitar, and autoharp. She was an original member of the Carter Family, a trio that included her brother-in-law, Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter, and her first cousin, Sara Elizabeth Dougherty Carter, who was also A. P. Carter’s wife. The group performed locally at churches, schools, and social events. In 1927 the Carter Family traveled to Bristol to audition for the Victor Talking Machine Company and made several records. Invited to Victor’s studios in Camden, New Jersey, for further sessions, the group eventually recorded hundreds of songs. The Carter Family’s fame also derived from appearances on radio shows that could be heard across the country.

After the original Carter Family broke up in 1943, Maybelle Carter and her three daughters, Anita, Helen, and Valerie June, began performing on numerous radio stations, including Richmond’s WRVA. By 1950 she had joined Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry radio show. She became known as "Mother Maybelle" and later as the Mother of Country Music.

Carter mastered several guitar styles including Hawaiian slide guitar, but she is most famous for the "Carter scratch" or "Carter lick," a dynamic thumb-lead style that powered most of the Carter Family’s recordings. During the folk music revival of the 1960s Carter often performed on the autoharp and reprised many of the Carter Family’s classic tunes, such as "Wildwood Flower." Youthful folk music audiences embraced her and her music, and she appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken album. In 1970 the Carter Family was the first group inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.