July 21, 1898|
Copper Creek, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||January 8, 1979
Lodi, California, U.S.
|Genres||Country, folk, gospel|
|Instruments||Vocals, autoharp, guitar|
|Years active||1927–1943, 1960-1971|
|Labels||Victor, ARC, Decca|
|Associated acts||Carter Family|
Sara Dougherty Carter (July 21, 1898 – January 8, 1979) was an American country music musician, singer, and songwriter. Remembered mostly for her deep, distinctive, mature singing voice, she was the lead singer on most of the recordings of the historic Carter Family act in the 1920s and 1930s. In her earliest recordings her voice was pitched very high.
Born in Copper Creek, Virginia,, she was the daughter of William Sevier Dougherty and Nancy Elizabeth Kilgore. Sara married A. P. Carter on June 18, 1915, but they were later divorced in 1939. They had three children: Gladys (Mrs. Millard), Janette, and Joe.
In 1927, she and A. P. began performing as the Carter Family, perhaps the first commercial rural country music group. They were joined by her cousin, Maybelle, who was married to A. P.'s brother, Ezra Carter. Later, Sara married Coy Bayes, A. P.'s first cousin, and moved to California in 1943, and the original group disbanded. In the late 1940s, Maybelle began performing with her daughters Helen, June, and Anita as The Carter Sisters (the act was renamed The Carter Family during the 1960s).
On some Carter Family recordings, Sara is incorrectly credited as author of the songs "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" and "Keep on the Firing Line"; in truth she discovered these public domain songs when they were being sung at a Seventh-day Adventist church she visited. RCA gave her songwriter credit, as it did A. P. Carter on his public domain discoveries. The Carter Family recordings of these tunes did, however, bring the songs wide fame and are largely responsible for their being known today. Sara actually did write or cowrite several other songs. Examples include My Foothills Home, The Dying Soldier, Lonesome Pine Special, Farther On and Railroading on the Great Divide.
Sara reunited with Maybelle briefly in the 1960s for two albums, and they briefly performed together during the folk music craze of the time. (Video on YouTube) The duo were also featured as guests in a late 1960s episode of The Wilburn Brothers television show, singing "Little Moses" and "As The Band Kept Playing Dixie". Following this period, Sara went back into retirement in California.
Carter was inducted as part of the Carter Family in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 along with Bill Monroe.  In 1993, her image appeared on a U.S. postage stamp honoring the Carter Family. In 2001 she was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.
On her 2008 album, All I Intended to Be, Emmylou Harris includes the song "How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower", co-written with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, about the relationship between Sara and A. P., inspired by a documentary that the three of them saw on television.
Sara Carter died in Lodi, California, aged 80, and is interred in the Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church graveyard in Hiltons, Virginia. The A. P. and Sara Carter House, A. P. Carter Homeplace, A. P. Carter Store, Maybelle and Ezra Carter House, and Mt. Vernon Methodist Church are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as components of the Carter Family Thematic Resource.
- Zwonitzer, Mark; Hirshberg, Charles (2004). Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-4382-X.
- Wolfe, Charles. "Carter Family". Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
- Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Carter family profile, pdfhost.focus.nps.gov (PDF); accessed November 14, 2015.
- Wolfe, Charles (1998). "The Carter Family". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 84–5, 617.