Helen Carter was an American singer, guitarist and songwriter, known for performing with her mother and sisters in ‘The Carter Family Band’. She was the lucky charm for her family; her mother’s family band kicked off to a historic start when her mother was seven months pregnant with her. Helen was the eldest daughter of the family with two little sisters to look after at a young age. She understood her responsibilities towards the family and became a second mother to her sisters. For her personal growth as an artist, she learned to sing and play musical instruments to make her place in the family band. She was a creative and confident girl keen to perform with her family band and to maintain special connections with them in their personal lives. She was a lovable and caring person who held her family together through thick and thin times both onstage and offstage. Her career as a singer and musician was much appreciated but she eventually became famous through her songwriting skills. Many people consider her the most talented musician and songwriter of the Carter family with a great deal of respect for her dedication towards the family. She was a selfless woman with utmost love for her family and undying passion for her career as an artist.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on September 29, 1927 in Poor Valley Virginia to Ezra Carter and Maybelle Addington Carter, a country musician. She was the eldest of the three sisters.
With her mother traveling to musical shows around the world along with her aunt and uncle as a part of ‘The Carter Family Band’, she used to look after the family. She used to do most of the cooking and took care of her sisters, holding the family together.
Along with taking care of the family, she also learned to sing and play a number of musical instruments to establish her place in the family music band. She was a talented and hard-working girl eager to learn and continue the family legacy.
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In 1938, the ‘Carter Family Band’ was invited to perform on the most powerful radio station of its time, XERA, in Texas. In 1939, she began her artistic career when she sang the backup harmony along with her sisters, twice a week, for $15 a week. She continued to perform in this radio show for four years.
In 1943, there was a sudden breakdown of the Carter Family Band when her aunt, Sara Carter, left the group to live with her second husband in California and her uncle, A.P. Carter, left the group to settle in Virginia.
After this collapse, her mother formed a new Carter Family Band along with her daughters and named it ‘Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters’. In the band, her sister, Anita Carter, sang the lead vocals while other members played as the musicians.
They used to perform the old hits of Carter family on the radio program ‘Old Dominion Barn Dance’ in Virginia. In 1948, they moved to WNOX radio station to perform with legendary country artist, Chet Atkins.
In 1950s, the band along with Atkins used to perform regularly on The Grand Ole Opry, nation’s most popular country music radio show. They also performed as the opening act for Elvis Presley’s tour in 1956-57.
In 1960, her family band collaborated with Johnny Cash, the legendary country music artist, to record songs for albums as well as to perform in concerts. Same year, she as an individual, formed a short lived group with Dolores Dinning of the Dinning Sisters and recorded songs for MGM.
In the later years, she enjoyed considerable success with her family band with their albums ‘Sunny Side’ (1964), ‘Travelin’ Minstrel Band’ (1972) and ‘Three Generations’ (1974).
In 1978, her mother passed away due to poor health. She along with her sisters continued to perform on Carter Family classics in the further years until her death.
Her greatest commercial success came from songwriting. Some of her famous songs include ‘The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea’, ‘Wall to Wall Love’, ‘Rosanna's Going Wild’, ‘Loving You was Worth this Broken Heart’, ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me’, ‘Is This My Destiny?’ and ‘What am I Supposed to Do?’.
The Carters were on the first to feature the country music on a nationally televised network program, ‘The Kate Smith Show’.
She played a variety of instruments including accordion, autoharp, guitar, piano and mandolin.
She was described as the rock of the family, both onstage as well as offstage. Her family members always stated that she was the reason behind their lively musical performances onstage and also of the special bonding they shared with each other offstage.
Awards & Achievements
The Carter Family Band was given the "Favorite Country Group" award by the American Music Awards in 1973 and the "Gospel Act of the Year" award by the Music City News Awards in 1980.
Along with her mother, Maybelle Carter, Helen Carter was recorded by the Smithsonian Institution in 1975.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1950, she married Glenn Jones of Dickson, a pilot. They were blessed with four children; Kenneth Jones, Glenn Daniels, David Lawrence and Kevin Carter Jones.
Her son Kenneth was a talented musician and songwriter in his early years. Unfortunately, he died in an automobile accident at the age of 16.
On June 2, 1998 she passed away in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 70 because of heart disease. She was buried next to her son, Kenneth, in the same cemetery in which her parents were buried.