"Mother" Maybelle Carter (May 10, 1909 - October 23, 1978) was an American country musician. She is best known as a member of the historic Carter Family act in the 1920s and '30s and also as a member of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.
Maybelle Carter was born Maybelle Addington on May 10, 1909 in Nickelsville, Virginia, the daughter of Hugh Jackson Addington and Margaret S. Kilgore. According to family lore, the Addington family of Virginia is descended from former British prime minister Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth.
On March 13, 1926, Maybelle married Ezra J. Carter. They had three daughters, Helen, Valerie June (better known in later life as June Carter Cash), and Anita.
She was a member of the original Carter Family, which was formed in 1927 by her brother-in-law, A. P. Carter, who was married to her cousin, Sara, also a part of the trio. The Carter Family was one of the first commercial rural country music groups. Maybelle, who played autoharp and banjo as well as being the group's guitarist, created a unique sound for the group with her innovative 'scratch' style of guitar playing, where she used her thumb to play melody on the bass and middle strings, and her index finger to fill out the rhythm. Although Maybelle herself had first picked up this technique from the guitarist Lesley Riddle, it became widely known as Carter Family picking, an indication of the group's pivotal role in popularizing the style.
Perhaps the most remarkable of Maybelle's many talents was her skill as a guitarist. She revolutionized the instrument's role by developing a style in which she played melody lines on the bass strings with her thumb while rhythmically strumming with her fingers. Her innovative technique, to this day known as the Carter Scratch, influenced the guitar's shift from rhythm to lead instrument.
She was widely respected and loved by the Grand Ole Opry community of the early 1950s, and was popularly known as "Mother Maybelle" and a matriarchal figure in country music circles although only in her forties at the time. Maybelle and her daughters toured during the 1950s and 1960s as "Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters" but after the death of A. P. Carter in 1960 the group revived the name "The Carter Family", frequently touring with Johnny Cash (her son-in-law from 1968 on); the group were regular performers on Cash's weekly network variety show from 1969-71. Maybelle briefly reunited with former Carter Family member, Sara Carter, during the 1960s folk music craze, with Sara singing lead and Maybelle providing harmony as before.
Maybelle Carter made occasional solo recordings during the 1960s and 1970s, usually full-length albums. Her final such work, a two-record set released on Columbia Records, placed on Billboard's best-selling country albums chart in 1973 when she was 64. Maybelle was also featured on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1972 recording Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Maybelle Carter died in 1978 after a few years of poor health, and was interred next to her husband, Ezra, in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, Hendersonville, Tennessee. All three of their daughters, "The Carter Sisters" - Helen, June, and Anita - are buried nearby in the same cemetery.
Maybelle Carter was inducted as part of The Carter Family in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970.
In 1993, her image appeared on a U.S. postage stamp honoring the Carter Family. In 2001 she was initiated into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. She would rank No. 8 in CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002. In 2005, she was portrayed by Sandra Ellis Lafferty in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.
She was the subject of her granddaughter Carlene Carter's 1990 song "Me and the Wildwood Rose".
Her death was the subject of Johnny Cash's song "Tears in the Holston River".
In 2010, Lipscomb University in Nashville named the stage in Collins Alumni Auditorium after her.
The A. P. and Sara Carter House, A. P. Carter Homeplace, A. P. Carter Store, Maybelle and Ezra Carter House, and Mt. Vernon Methodist Church are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as components of the Carter Family Thematic Resource.
Solo albums discography: