This is the one and only documentary that I could find on The Carter Family. Produced as part of the American Experience series on PBS in 2005, it is a 1 hour straight forward chronological document of the history of the original Carter Family narrated by actor Robert Duvall. The film leans heavily on interviews with writers, family members, and other famous musicians (including Gillian Welch, Marty Stuart, Joan Baez, and Rodney Crowell.) You will also see archival footage and photos spiced up with the “Ken Burns Style” pan and zoom technique. The film also throws in filmed reenactments which thankfully are done tastefully and are hardly noticeable. Definitely a great introduction to Country Music’s first family.
I picked up a bunch of great nuggets of music knowledge… here is a few tidbits to wet your appetite.
- The “Original Carter Family” is made up of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and A.P.’s sister in law Maybelle (later would include some of Maybelle’s daughters). The film does not cover the second incarnation of the Carter Family which featured just Maybelle and her daughters.
- Sara and A.P. married in 1915 but didn’t start recording until they were discovered by a Victor Records representative by the name of Ralph Peer in 1927.
- When A.P. discovered he could make money recording and copywriting songs began to travel door to door all over the rural south collecting the peoples songs and then re-arranged them. Not necessary the most honest way to make a living when you look at it, but I guess if he hadn’t done it, a lot of America’s early folk music would be lost.
- The Carter Family recorded and performed roughly from 1927 to 1943 and became widely known and popular across America. Their public image was of a solid wholesome family unit, when in reality Sara and A.P. had been having marital troubles ever since the mid twenties. In 1936 unbeknownst to their fans they separated but continued to perform together. In 1943 Sara filed for divorce which also split up the original lineup.
Go to the American Experience – Carter Family website to see info on the film and take advantage of web extras.
Here is a few tracks from The Carter Family for your listening pleasure (if you don’t see the embedded playlist, follow this link.)