The Carter Family is country music royalty, a group whose legacy remains firm to this day and whose songs are among country music's most crucial foundations. From its first recordings in 1927, the original trio (A.P. Carter, his wife and lead vocalist Sara Carter and Sara's cousin, guitarist Maybelle Carter) brought rural folk music out of the mountains and into the homes, minds and memories of people across the nation. Gathered from numerous local sources by stoic A.P., their repertoire centered around traditional old-time songs like "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Wildwood Flower" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" — some folk and gospel numbers passed down through generations, others Tin Pan Alley creations and parlor ditties picked up by rural musicians. The Carters weren't the first to play such tunes in a commercial context, but their exceptional musicianship, tight harmonies and professional drive quickly gained them nationwide popularity and a lasting legend.
Hailing from rural Virginia, the original Carters debuted at the famous 1927 Bristol Sessions in the Virginia/Tennessee border town of Bristol. They went on to record hundreds of sides, mostly for Victor but also for such labels as Decca and Columbia. They split in 1943, with Maybelle and the Carter Sisters (her daughters Helen, Anita and June) bringing the Carter legacy into the modern country music era. Today, nearing a century old, the original Carter Family music holds up beautifully — it may be simple and a bit creaky, but it remains gorgeous, sturdy, vivid and haunting.
By the mid '30s, A.P. and Sara's marriage was crumbling — they eventually separated but continued recording together. That personal situation (plus the ongoing Depression) may have inspired the strong, upright tone behind some of these 1932 and '33 recordings, from the evangelical "We Will March Through the Streets of the City" to the dry take on "See That My Grave Is Kept Green" (a cover of a 19th-century sentimental number that inspired Blind Lemon Jefferson's more famous "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean").