By BEN RATLIFF
Helen Carter, a singer and musician who was part of the Carter family
dynasty of country-music
entertainers, died on Tuesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. She
was 70 and lived in Dickson, Tenn.
She had been hospitalized for gastrointestinal problems that began over
a year ago, said Kelly
Hancock of House of Cash, the business office of Johnny Cash, Carter's brother-in-law, and of her
sister June Carter Cash.
The original Carter Family band, which helped kick-start the country-music
record industry in 1927,
was begun by A.P. Carter, a railroad worker and farmer from Maces Springs, Va.; his wife, Sara,
and Sara's cousin, Maybelle.
The band grew with the occasional addition of Maybelle's children, including Helen.
The family band lasted from 1927 to 1943, and it was of inestimable importance to American music.
It disseminated traditional songs, established a widely imitated small-group
sound and built a set of
templates that country, bluegrass and folk musicians would draw upon -- the mountain hymn, the love
ballad, the cowboy tune and so on.
In 1943 Sara quit singing for good, and Maybelle started a new band, Mother
Maybelle and the
Carter Sisters, with her daughters as permanent members.
Helen was 12 when she was introduced to the world over the airwaves of
XET in Monterrey,
Mexico, and in her teen-age years became the most dependable musician of her mother's band,
playing accordion, guitar and autoharp.
It was a successful band, featured on "The Old Dominion Barn Dance," a
radio show based in
Richmond, Va., in 1946; later it moved to the "Tennessee Barn Dance," on Knoxville's WNOX.
In 1950 the band joined the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville, and did
some recording as a trio
for Columbia records.
Helen Carter was a songwriter as well, writing "Poor Old Heartsick Me,"
a hit for the singer Margie
Bowes in 1959.
In the 1960's and 70's, she often appeared on radio and television not
as a member of a working
group but simply as a member of the famous clan. For example, she appeared on television with her
sister June and Cash.
In addition to her sister June, of Hendersonville, Va., she is survived
by her husband, Glenn Jones of
Dickson, Tenn.; another sister, Anita Carter of Goodlettsville, Tenn.; three sons, Glenn Daniel, David
Lawrence, and Kevin Carter Jones, all of Dickson, and six grandchildren.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company
The Carter Sisters
- Helen, June and Anita - inherited a vast musical legacy. Their mother,
Addington Carter, was a member of country music's first family. The original Carter Family - A.P., his
wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle launched their career in 1927 at RCA's historic Bristol sessions.
Helen often jokes that she, too, was at those sessions as MAybelle was eight months pregnant at the time.
In 1937, the girls
made their radio debut on the Popeye Club broadcast over WOPI in Bristol,
Two years later they joined their famous family on border radio station XERA beamed out of Del Rio,
When the original Carter
Family disbanded in 1943, Maybelle formed a new group with her three young
daughters. Billed simply as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, the quartet soon found radio work on
WLRN in Richmond, Virginia. In 1946, they moved over to the Old Dominion Barn Dance where they
remained until 1947. From Richmond the group traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, and joined the cast of
the Tennessee Barndance. While in Knoxville, they added guitarist Chet Atkins, who remained with the
group until 1951. In 1948, the group released their first recording, "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea", for
RCA Victor Records.
One year later, the
young women moved onto Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee broadcast over KWTO in
Springfield, Missouri. In 1950, Maybelle and her girls joined the cast of WSM's Grand Ole Opry and took
up residence in Nashville two years later.
All of the girls gained
proficiency on a variety of instruments, but the usual lineup included
guitar, Helen on accordian and Anita on bass. June played autoharp and guitar as well, but during the
group's Opry years, her comedic talents were a featured part of the family's act.
In Spring of 1952,
the quartet traveled with an Opry troupe for three landmark appearances
Smith's NBC network television program. Joining the Carters for these broadcasts were Hank Williams,
Lonzo & Oscar, Carl Smith and Roy Acuff's outfit. On the April 25th program Anita was featured with
Williams on a duet of "(I Can't Help It If) I'm Still In Love With You." Anita's crystal clear soprano
melded beautifully with Williams' voice and proved to be the high point of that broadcast.
In the early 1950s,
Anita landed her own recording contract with RCA. She teamed up with labelmate
Hank Snow on "Bluebird Island," which made the Top Ten Billboard chart in 1951. That recording was
followed up with "Down The Trail Of Achin' Hearts," which topped out at No. 2.
During the early years
of Rock 'n Roll, Anita also recorded as part of the 'Nita, Rita and Ruby
teen trio. In
the mid-1960s, she scored three chart singles with a new duet partner, Waylon Jennings.
Meanwhile, Helen and
June were pursuing individual careers as well. In 1951, Helen signed with
Tennessee Records, releasing several discs. And in 1952, she recorded "I Went To Your Wedding" with
noted singer-songwriter Johnny Bond for Columbia Records. In the early 1970s, she also recorded for
Starday Records. A talented songwriter, Helen penned "Poor Old Heartsick Me," which was a Top Ten
single for Margie Bowes in 1959.
June recorded for both
RCA and Columbia and teamed up with Homer and Jethro in 1949 on "Baby It's
Cold Outside." In the early 1950s, she traveled to New York to study drama at Manhattan's
Neighborhood Playhouse. This led to several network appearances including Gunsmoke, The Tennessee
Ernie Ford Show and later, Little House On The Prairie. In 1954, June married singer Carl Smith and the
following year gave birth to daughter, Rebecca Carlene.
In 1963, June added
songwriting to her list of credentials teaming up with Merle Kilgore on
No. 1 single, "Ring Of Fire". The Carter Family, as they were known, joined Johnny Cash's road show in
1967. That same year June also teamed up with future husband Cash and recorded "Jackson", penned by
Carl Perkins, taking it to the No. 2 spot on Billboard's country charts.
Throughout the 60s,
70s and 80s, the Carters recorded for several major labels including RCA,
and United Artists, placing several singles on the charts. After Maybelle's death in 1978, Helen, June,
Anita and their children have been dedicated to preserving and carrying on the rich musical legacy which
they inherited. Increasing health problems have limited Helen and Anita's road work in recent years, but
the trio performs together whenever possible.