The original group consisted of Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter (A.P.; 1891-1960), his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter (autoharp and guitar; 1898-1979), and Maybelle Addington Carter (guitar; 1909-1978). Maybelle was married to A.P.'s brother Ezra (Eck) Carter. 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. Maybelle's distinctive and innovative guitar playing style quickly became a hallmark of the group.
The Carters got their start on July 31, 1927 when A.P. convinced Sara and Maybelle (pregnant at the time) to make the journey from Maces Springs, Virginia to Bristol, Tennessee to audition for record producer Ralph Peer who was seeking new talent for the relatively embryonic recording industry. They received $50 for each song they recorded.
In the Fall of 1927 the Victor recording company released a double-sided 78 rpm record of the group performing "Wandering Boy" and "Poor Orphan Child". In 1928 another record was released with "The Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Single Girl, Married Girl". This record became very popular.