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Maybelle Carter was born Maybelle Addington on May 10, 1909, in Nickelsville, Virginia . She was the daughter of Margaret Elizabeth (née Kilgore; 1879 – 1960) and Hugh Jackson Addington (1877 – 1929). 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 Carter . They had three daughters, Helen,June 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. Her innovative technique, to this day known as the Carter Scratch, influenced the guitar’s shift from rhythm to lead instrument. 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.
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 from the 1940s through the 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 Gaedens, Hendersonville , Tennessee. All three of their daughters, “The Carter Sisters” –Helen, June and Anita – are buried nearby in the same cemetery.