Profile: Janette Carter, country musician with fabled roots
1/15/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: A photograph of Janette Carter is available with this story.
By United Methodist News Service
Carter, daughter of country music legends A.P. and Sara Carter, recalls
the musical heritage of the "First Family of Country Music" from the
Carter Family Memorial Music Center in Hiltons, Va. A UMNS photo by
David Rogers. Photo number 03-09, Accompanies UMNS #018, 1/14/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
UMC.org, the official Web site of the United
Methodist Church, is spotlighting the spiritual journey of Janette
Carter, daughter of country music legends A.P. and Sara Carter, in this
month's "UMC.org Profiles" audio-feature. Often called the "First Family
of Country Music," the Carter Family's early recordings helped forge
the foundation of today's country music. Last year marked the 75th
anniversary of the Bristol Sessions, the family's first recording
sessions. In 1974, Janette Carter started the Carter Family Memorial
Music Center as a way to celebrate her family's music and preserve the
music of Appalachia. Now 80, she lives in southwest Virginia and attends
Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in Hiltons. Her brother, Joe, and
daughter, Rita Forrester, joined in the interview with writer Bill
Friskics-Warren of Nashville, Tenn.
Q: How long have you been putting on weekly Saturday night shows?
I started my programs in 1974, and I had them for two years here in
this little building. This was a store that was built by my daddy in the
'40s. And the big building over there was built in '76, and then I
decided to put little music shows in it.
It starts out always
with me and Joe, and my son Bill helps a lot. We do all Carter family
songs. And we do two or three, then make all the announcements. Then we
let the band come in. They have two 45-minute sets, the bands that I
book. And they either do acoustic or bluegrass. That's what I'm trying
to preserve, is that kind of music. I said it'd be a disgrace to have
any other kind here in the valley where the family come from, you know.
has been quite a journey, let me tell you. I've not made a lot of
money. I didn't expect to do that. But I wanted to try to keep it
a-going, and I'm lucky to have kept my doors open. Now I've had some
friends that have done some benefits and given me the money to help
continue what I'm doing. And of course, I've had Johnny Cash and I've
had Marty Stuart and I've had Tom T. Hall, and they've all done benefits
for me over the years.
I hope I can (go on) a while longer, but I
get very tired. It is something to give every weekend up for going on
29 years. That's a lot of dedication.
I've never tried to quit,
but I've got a few times that it got so hard I didn't think I could go
on. But I just more or less leave it all in God's hands. And he'll tell
me what to do and when to stop. And I hope my children will continue
I've never made a lot of records. I've helped some
(with) Mommy and Daddy and Maybelle. I've done three albums; two of them
is discontinued. But my parents' music will always be there.
Q: Why do you think it has had lasting appeal?
It was such good music. And it was done right. They done a lot of
rehearsing. They worked awfully hard at it. And you stop and think,
three people and two instruments have made all them songs and worked all
them many years and on the radio, in concerts. My daddy called them
entertainments. And I, a lot of times, will call them programs. They
wasn't among the first to record, but they was among the first to start
having them really sell records. It was a new process when they more or
And I guess there was a change wanted in music.
Music changes. It seems like it'll go down and maybe (people will) just
about quit listening, and the next thing you know it may be a song or a
band (becomes popular). And I think my daddy, people never realized what
he had done. He didn't realize it.
I watched Mother, my mother
Sarah, and Maybelle. My mother did not sing unless it was in the right
pitch. You can get it too high; you can get it too low. But she had to
sing it in a way that Maybelle could come in for her part and that Daddy
could come in for his. He sung bass, of course, and arranged a lot of
it. And they picked out the music leads or worked it out. I never heard
three people that their voices blended any more than these did.
they sung good songs. You never heard some of the songs like they hear
(today). Some of it is just not very good, I don't think. There's so
much good things to sing about, like hymns and ballads and love songs
and things like that. I just can't endure music that has bad language in
it. It's just not good.
Q: Joe, I would just like you to say a little about what it's meant for her to coordinate these shows for the past 30 years.
Joe: Oh, she's got her heart at it all right. She hangs right with it. She pushes too hard.
Q: Tell me about the role of gospel music in the Carter Family's music.
They done quite a few hymns and ballads. And my daddy's people were
very religious people. They were dedicated. Now, of course, like I say,
with the music and the way children are brought up and training, it
changes. When we was a-growing up, they'd tell you one time what to do
and you didn't tell them you wasn't aiming to do it and argue with them.
You done what you was told. And they was trained that a-way.
they was firm believers in church. Well, I can remember as a child
there wasn't anything much in this valley to go to but to church. So we
went to church. And I wanted to go. And the church would be full.
I don't go to church like I ought to; I have a lot to do. But everybody
has a lot to do. You can get along so much better if you take time out
to thank (God). Every day of your life when you get up, thank him. And
when you go to bed, thank him for every blessing. I give him all the
credit. Some people ask me, 'Well, how do you go onâ€¦?' Well, like I
said, I don't have a lot of money. But I do believe he'll help you in
anything you ask him to do.
I remember the first time I ever
(performed alone). Standing behind them big drapes over at East
Tennessee State, the big stage, and I got to listening. I was supposed
to come on in a few minutes. And (the announcer) was a-trying to talk
about me and my people and this and that. And I thought, Well, my lord,
I've got to walk out there. I've got to get gone. He was a-calling my
name. And I started trembling. I said, "I can't go out there." And I
said, "Well, what in the world am I going to do? He's calling my name.
I've got to go out there and do something." I said, "God, you please go
with me." And he did. And I've learned that no matter where I go, if
I'll ask him to help me, he will. He'll go with you. So when I got
through, I sure thanked him that I got through it. Well, I quit
trembling and I walked out there.
Q: You grew up in a Methodist church.
Yeah, Mount Vernon Methodist Church. Well, I lived in Bristol first
when I was married, for 18 years. Of course I didn't come down here much
to church then because, well, it was a little ways off. But yeah, I've
belonged to that church since I was a child. Yeah, it's been there for
the whole valley and the whole community.
And a lot of people go
visit the grave of Mommy and Daddy. And Maybelle's buried in
Hendersonville, Tenn., because she worked there off of the Opry for so
long time, you know.
Q: Describe this valley.
They's some wonderful people here, and they're like all communities.
They talk a lot to one another. But they would do anything to help their
neighbors. That's the way it is here. It was that a-way when I was a
child. It's still that a-way.
Q: Could you describe the role the church played in your family memories?
Well, every year they'd have a big revival, as a rule, you know. And
then when they got through the revival, of course, ever who was saved,
they'd want to be baptized. And you'd go to the baptizing and then
they'd usually join the church. And when they started, the children
growed up and had their family, but they still going to the same church
in the same valley in the same place.
Q: Do you have any memories of church from your early days?
Yeah, the congregation and all that. They had some good revivals up
there. My grandfather was a very religious man and grandmother, too. And
they called him a praying machine. And when they called on him, I mean,
he would put them right, almost bring the fire down on them, you know.
But he was a good man. My dad never was that strict on his, you know,
religion. He was a believer and all that, but he just didn't carry it
like they did.
(We) used to have a lot of tent meetings, you know
and even up through this country they'd have a tent meeting. People
turn out to that. It wasn't strictly all Methodists. There was Baptist,
Presbyterian and I guess a few Holiness gets mixed in with it even.
Q: Has your family been Methodist from way back?
Back as far as I can remember. I think that church was built up there
at 1905. That's when the first one was buried there in that cemetery.
And it's been remodeled a time or two.
Rita: My granddad, his
father and brothers helped to bring the timbers down from Clinch
Mountain to build it. So it's more than close to our hearts. It's very
special. And I guess today the sixth or seventh generation of Carter
children attend that church, which you don't see that very often. You
really don't see that. So that's a very big part of what we do and our
Q: The "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack from 2001
put roots music back on the charts. The album includes the Carter
Family's "Keep on the Sunny Side."
Rita: I do think "O Brother"
sort of helped to bring a new focus on our kind of music. And I think
people just don't get the opportunity to hear our music. When you think
about the fact that the "O Brother" soundtrack sold the last count was
over 6 million copies with no airplay, that's phenomenal.
Q: Would you like to add anything?
I'm just a lucky person to hang in there like I have. And, like I say, I
give him all the credit. My grandson says, 'Grandma, how do you go on
and on and on?' And I says, 'Well, I pray a little, I pray and then I go
a little ways, then I'll pray some more and go on another little way.'
These grandmas, they're something else.