group of singers that specialized in traditional music of the Southern Appalachian Mountains; it consisted of A(lvin) P(leasant) Carter, 1891–1960, b. Maces Spring, Va.; his wife, Sara (Dougherty) Carter, 1898–1979, b. Flatwoods, Va.; and his sister-in-law, Maybelle (Addington) Carter, 1909–1978, b. Nickelsville, Va. Perhaps the most influential group in the history of country music, they helped to bring folk and country into America's cultural mainstream. The group sang locally until 1927 when they responded to a talent scout's ad, were “discovered,” and became recording artists. During their career they recorded more than 300 songs, sometimes joined by Sara or Maybelle's children.
The Carters' style was marked by close harmonies, by Sara's autoharp, and by “Mother” Maybelle's distinctive guitar-picking style, later adopted by many folk and country artists. Among their best-known songs are Wildwood Flower, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Wabash Cannonball. While the so-called Original Carter Family disbanded in 1943 (seven years after Sara divorced A. P.), later Carters followed in their tradition; Maybelle continued to perform into the 1960s along with her daughters Helen (1927–98), Anita (1933–99), and June (1929–2003), who was married to and often sang with Johnny Cash. Today, A. P. and Sara's children Janette and Joe both sing country music, notably at the Carter Family Memorial Music Center in Hiltons, Va. (est. 1979). The Carter Family was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970.