The Carter Family is a traditional American folk music group that recorded between 1927 and 1956. Their music had a profound impact on bluegrass, country, Southern Gospel, pop and rock musicians as well as on the U.S. folk revival of the 1960s. They were the first vocal group to become country music stars. Their recordings of songs such as "Wabash Cannonball", "Can the Circle Be Unbroken", "Wildwood Flower", "Keep On the Sunny Side" and "I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" made these songs country standards. The latter’s tune was used for Roy Acuff’s "The Great Speckled Bird", Hank Thompson’s "The Wild Side of Life" and Kitty Wells’ "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", making the song a hit all over again in other incarnations.
The original group consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter, and his sister-in-law Maybelle Carter. Maybelle was married to A.P.’s brother Ezra Carter (Eck), and was also Sara’s first cousin. All three were born and raised in southwestern Virginia, where they were immersed in the tight harmonies of mountain gospel music and shape note singing.
Throughout the group’s career, Sara Carter sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar or autoharp; Maybelle sang harmony and played lead guitar; on some songs A.P. did not perform at all but at times sang harmony and background vocals and, once in a while, lead vocal. Maybelle’s distinctive guitar playing style became a hallmark of the group and her Carter Scratch (a method for playing both lead and rhythm on the guitar) has become one of the most copied styles of guitar playing.