March 22, 2008
There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about the rising frequency of spiritual songs in country music. Big hits like “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “When I Get Where I’m Going” have given country radio a Christian feel, but such sentiments in country music are nothing new. Country artists have been singing about God for generations, but it was a recently divorced singer named Martha Carson who brought the country gospel song to the masses back in the 1950s.
Martha had been singing in various country groups such as the Coon Creek Girls when she started turning toward more spiritual material. She formed the Dixie Sweethearts with her husband James, and spent the late forties touring and recording country-flavored gospel numbers. The family-friendly image of their act, however, was quickly becoming a facade.
Her husband might have been singing spirituals on stage, but his off-stage antics were anything but holy. He would go out drinking and sleep with other women, then brag about his conquests to his wife, blaming his infidelity on her infertility. When he attempted to have his pregnant girlfriend move in with them, she pushed for and finally received her divorce in 1951.
Of course, divorce was seen as an abomination in those days, particularly among the religious fundamentalists that made up Carson’s core audience. It was after an irate fan confronted her, saying that women like her had no business singing spiritual songs, that she had an epiphany. On the back of an old blank check, she started jotting down the words to what would become a gospel classic: “Satisfied.”
The recording of the song would eventually become a million-selling single for Carson, the first ever for a female gospel artist. More than a hundred other artists would go on to cover the song, including Elvis Presley, her touring partner in the mid-fifties. Her infectious stage performances made her a regular on early television shows, and she cut albums for RCA that fused gospel with rockabilly.
Carson became one of the first female country artists to dominate the “supper circuit,” playing lounge halls and guesting on variety shows. But her heart remained in gospel music, and when the crossover success died down, she recorded more albums in that vein. Her recording career was essentially over by the mid-sixties, but her legacy as the first major female country gospel star remained. “Satisfied” has since become a standard, and it remains a shining moment in both country music and gospel music history. Not bad for a song written on the back of a blank check.
- “Satisfied” – 1951
- Journey to the Sky (1955)
- Rock-a My Soul (1957)