For part one of this planned trilogy of posts about The Carter Family, click here.
Alvin Pleasant "A.P." Carter was born this date in 1891. The Pater Familias of the "First Family of Country Music" would have been 118 years old today.
Below is the "Original Carter Family", Maybelle, Sara and A.P. himself:
A.P. was a "nervous" soul, by all accounts. A restless body with a restless mind that seemed unable to sit still or take on any one task long enough to stay put and do any good on the family farm.
His wandering feet took him up and down the railroad tracks of Virginia and his curious mind drew him to the music being sung by the people he met.
He collected scores of old hill and folk songs and hymnals from his rural surroundings, some that were 100's of years old and untouched by the centuries. Songs that had traveled from Ireland, England and other parts of Europe and settled into the back-woods and mountains of the America's. Parts of America which were cut-off from the rest of the country and world as the Industrial Revolution had happened.
These songs, the people who preserved them and their traditions would have been lost forever with the 20th Century's encroachment of their territory. They were like a time-capsule of 100's of years of, not just musical, but anthropological history.
Yes, it's true (and a little controversial) that A.P. copyrighted these songs he gathered under his own name and gained financially from them. But we would be without them altogether without him rounding them up. He exposed the value of what songs could tell, and in doing so, pioneered the work of Alan and John Lomax and others in preserving a people and lifestyle.
A.P. did write some of these songs himself however, though it's hard to be sure totally of which. Some are so autobiographical and modern, they had to come from his shaky hands.
I don't think it's possible to be exposed and as open to music as he was without glomming some ability at matching what it can do.
Allot of these songs had a religious undertone or ever an overtone. I am an atheist from waaaaay back, but I hold this type of song dear. While I have my doubts about a higher power or any value the organized church can bring to someone, there's a true beauty in one person singing something comforting to another person which transcends anything I can explain. There's something that's more than the sum of a simple melody and a few rhyming couplets that adds up here.
Here's me doing a Carter Family song which I believe was ALL A.P.:
I got the line at the end wrong. It's supposed to be "The diamonds will be shining" not "gathered". It must be something from the back of my mind, that I'm unsure of my shininess, but hope I'll still be included in the harvest.
Oh, and be sure to check in on this great project that I mentioned in the first post. A graphic storytelling of Our Favorite Family that seems to be a true labor of love.