100 Greatest Men: #32. A.P. Carter

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November 23, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

His legacy has often languished in the shadows of his more accomplished female relatives, but A.P. Carter’s contributions to the development of country music remain essential.

A.P. Carter was the oldest of eight children, growing up in the poverty of the Appalachian mountains.  He struggled with tremors throughout his life, but still managed to master the fiddle.   He sang in a gospel group with his family and began writing songs, usually heavily influenced adaptations of traditional mountain songs and classic story ballads from both the Americas and overseas.

His life changed when he met Sara Dougherty, who became both his performance partner and his wife.   Alongside Maybelle Carter, his sister-in-law, they became a popular trio.  The Carter Family soon auditioned for and landed a long-term contract with Victor Records.  Beginning in 1927, they released widely popular country records, maintaining their success throughout both the Great Depression and A.P. and Sara’s separation.   The importance of their records cannot be overstated, with “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”, “Wildwood Flower”, and “Keep on the Sunny Side” now widely hailed as the most significant formative records in country music history.

Still, it would be the women of the group, especially Maybelle, who would further cement the legacy of the Carters.  After A.P. divorced Sara in 1939, the Carter Family’s breakup was inevitable.    Sara retired from the group in1943, and while A.P. ran a country store, Maybelle hit the road with her daughters throughout the forties.   The Carter Family made a brief comeback in the fifties, with A.P. and Sara joining their grown children on stage, but they disbanded after four years and a small handful of recordings.

A.P. Carter died in 1960, but his legacy lives on.  While Mother Maybelle and her daughters are the most recognizable Carters, their success was made possible by the work that A.P. and Sara did with Maybelle in the first fifteen years of the Carter Family’s musical legacy.

Essential Singles:

  • “Single Girl, Married Girl,” 1927
  • “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” 1927
  • “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone,”

    1928

  • “Keep on the Sunny Side,” 1928
  • “Wildwood Flower,” 1928
  • “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” 1928
  • “Motherless Children,” 1929
  • “No Depression in Heaven,” 1936
  • “Coal Miner’s Blues,” 1938

Next: #31. Randy Travis

Previous: #33. Mel Tillis

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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  1. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Great write-up, Kevin. I can see how A.P. Carter might be easy to overlook, but his work with Sara and Maybelle certainly warrants inclusion on this list. I think now it’s time for some Carter Family listening!

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I think you have A.P.Carter much too low, and I think you underestimate his importance relative to Maybelle and Sara.

    Like Bradley Kincaid and John and Alan Lomax, A.P. was one of the great preservations on earlier American musical forms, preserving much of the rich heritage of Appalachian folk music and the “parlor songs” of earlier pop music.

  3. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    typo – “preservations” should read “preservationists”

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