Oral History Project of the Week: The Carter Family Fold

Carter Family Fold - Rita Forrester - Family Member and Executive Director
Left: Rita Forrester, granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter. Photo by Amy Evans

In 1927, A. P. Carter, his wife Sara, and Sara’s cousin Maybelle, who happened to be married to A. P.’s brother, made the thirty-mile trek from their home in Hiltons, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, to record a few songs. The resulting Bristol Sessions came to be known as the “Big Bang” of country music.

Carter Family Fold
Cornbread and soup beans at the Carter Family Fold. Photo by Amy Evans

Almost fifty years after those first recordings, Janette Carter, daughter of A. P. and Sara, established the Carter Family Fold. It was A. P.’s dying wish that the Carter Family’s legacy be carried on, so Janette opened the small concert hall to celebrate her family and its contribution to country music, as well as the rich musical traditions of Appalachia. Janette played host to music fans every Saturday night for more than thirty years, opening shows with her brother Joe and son Dale and singing the songs like “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower” that her parents made famous. Meanwhile, Janette’s homemade soup beans and cornbread were flying out the concession stand window. Because the Carter Family Fold is not just about music. It’s about family. And when you’re entertaining family, you want to keep them fed.

Carter Family Fold - Nancy Carter
Nancy Carter, daughter-in-law of A.P. and Sara Carter. Photo by Amy Evans

Today, Janette’s daughter Rita Forrester welcomes friends, family, and music fans to the Fold. When her mother passed away in 2006, Rita took the helm and never looked back. And not much has changed. Rita sits in with the band each Saturday night to welcome the crowd and pay tribute to her family through song. But before the music even starts, Rita and her family and friends prepare the food that will be served that night. The traditional Appalachian staples of soup beans and cornbread are still at the top of the menu, but so is egg salad that’s made from Janette’s recipe and a menagerie of cakes that are baked by women in the community. Meet these Women at Work, who see to it that the Carter Family circle remains unbroken.