The announcement that the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa is planning an exhibit at the Grammy Museum called “Stronger Together: The Power of Women in Country Music” reminded me of a singer who had one of the greatest voices of all time – but which is vastly underestimated whenever the lists of greats of country singers are compiled.
I am not the only one who thinks this way.
In his book “Cash: The Autobiography”, Johnny Cash said that one of the things he liked most about his television show “The Johnny Cash Show”, which aired on ABC from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971, was -he was able to sing regularly with a singer he considered the best country music singer of all time.
Although his last name is Carter, it did not refer to his wife, June Carter Cash, but to his sister, Anita.
Anita Carter began her music career around the age of 8, along with her sister June and older sister, Helen Carter, teaming up with their mother, pioneering country music guitarist Mother Maybelle Carter, who was part of the original Carter family. The original Cates was made up of Maybelle Carter, as well as the husband and wife team of Sara and AP Carter.
Along with Jimmie Rodgers, they were considered the original pioneers of country music, with enduring songs ranging from “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (then known as “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”) to “Wildwood Flower”, credited to AP, – although some songs attributed to him are primarily Tsang folk songs in rural America, especially the mountainous regions to the east, along the Appalachian mountain range.
They were a stand-alone group, with Maybelle Carter mastering a style of guitar playing called “Carter Scratch,” a technique of playing the bass strings of a guitar with the thumb and choosing the melody with the fingers. With Maybelle’s sister-in-law and AP’s wife Sara Carter playing either the autoharp or the second guitar and the three joining in on vocals, they formed a stand-alone musical group.
They were also part of the Big Bang of country music, when Ralph Peer signed both the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers, also known as Blue Yodeler, to record contracts on the same day in 1927 during auditions that ‘he held in Bristol, Virginia – which led Rodgers to become the first solo artist and the Carter Family the first vocal group to be considered country music stars.
The original Carter family remained together until 1956, when AP and Sara were eventually divorced. Only Maybelle, married to AP’s brother Ezra “Eck” Carter, was left with no group. Do not worry. Maybelle had produced more than guitar licks and vocal lines during her years with the original Carter family. She and Eck had three daughters: Helen, June and the youngest, Anita.
Maybelle had taught all of her daughters to play instruments. While they all learned guitar, Maybelle decided they needed a fuller sound, so Helen learned the accordion and Anita learned acoustic bass – even though she was only 8 years old at the time. back then she had to stand on a box to play the huge instrument.
The group known as Mother Maybelle and Her Daughters began touring country music shows and singing on the radio. They chose a promising guitarist named Chet Atkins. They started playing with the long name The Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle with Chet Atkins – no doubt defying the guys who put letters on marquees around this time.
Growing up, the sisters began to develop their show business skills – June opting for a comedic character who became part of the band’s act. Helen also became an excellent singer, but Anita Carter’s voice quickly surpassed them all.
The girls grew up on the road as they constantly roamed the country music circuit – and it didn’t take long for some of their fellow performers to notice that they had grown up as well.
While an up-and-coming singer named Johnny Cash fell in love with June – we all know how it turned out – Anita caught the attention of two other artists who have gone on to become superstars as well.
One of the rare TV footage that shows Hank Williams playing shows Hank singing a duet of “I can’t help him (if I’m still in love with you)” with a young Anita Carter. The chemistry between them is still visible today.
When rock’n’roll lifted its head in the 1950s, the Carter Sisters were sometimes on the same bill as rising rockabilly artist Elvis Presley, who also fell in love with Anita.
In the 1960s, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters joined the Johnny Cash Show.
June later stated that she felt herself falling in love with Cash. She teamed up with family friend Merle Kilgore and together they wrote a song about how she felt called “Love’s Ring of Fire” which June gave Anita to record.
Anita recorded the song like a folk song during the last days of the so-called folk boom that saw singers such as the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul and Mary hit hard.
Cash liked the song so much that he told Anita that if it didn’t become a hit for her, he wanted to record it himself. When Anita’s slower, smoother recording failed to take off, Cash went to the studio to record his own version. He would later relate that before doing so, he had a dream that he would find useful in pursuing his own version.
Cash not only took the tempo of the song to the next level, he said he had dreamed of hearing Mexican mariachi horns on the song. He asked his old Sun Records-era friend Cowboy Jack Clement to help him with the arrangement. Instead of just recording trumpets, they captured what sounds like an authentic Mexican mariachi sound.
The version of Cash, with the track now simply called “Ring of Fire,” not only topped the country music charts for seven weeks, it also rose to the pop charts, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming the one of the biggest hits. of her career.
Anita and June Carter and were not left out, however. Along with sister Helen and mother Maybelle, they provided the backing vocals for the song. This is how I first discovered Anita Carter’s remarkable voice. On the album originally titled “Ring of Fire”, the Carters joined Cash on several other songs, including the gospel song “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”.
Cash sings the first two lines, then a voice that I can only describe as angelic joins the song. I later learned that the angelic voice was from Anita Carter.
Anita Carter has also recorded duets with Hank Snow and Waylon Jennings, and has recorded numerous solo records for a variety of labels, including majors and independents. His duets with Hank Snow, “Down the Trail of Achin ‘Hearts” and “Bluebird Island”, reached 2nd and 4th place respectively.
A duet with Waylon Jennings, “I Got You”, reached fourth place in 1968.
One of his last singles, “Tulsa County”, reached No. 41 in 1970.
I still think his rendition of a Kris Kristofferson song, with the title changed to “Lovin ‘Him Was Easie, r” is one of the best covers of a Kristofferson composition I’ve heard.
Theories abound as to why Anita Carter never reached popular stardom, including which one she felt best when she was on tour with her sisters or with the Johnny Cash Show in a family setting. Perhaps because she literally grew up playing, she didn’t feel the urge to achieve more success on her own.
Anita Carter died of this world in 1999 at the too young age of 66, at June and Johnny’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. She had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and the consensus is that the drugs she took for the treatment damaged her kidneys and liver.
His recordings continue today and I still listen to them. Bear Family Records has released a deluxe seven-CD box set containing 173 of his recordings, as well as a 78-page book.
Remembering my first impression of her voice, I must have smiled when I saw the title of the box set: Anita Carter: Appalachian Angel. “
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]