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Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music Hardcover – July 2, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Carter Family, Virginia mountain musicians who composed, performed and recorded hundreds of folk songs beginning in 1927, finally get their due in documentary filmmaker Zwonitzer's comprehensive biography. To say that the Carters, who inspired such legends as Chet Atkins, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, had a profound impact on popular American music is an understatement. Zwonitzer follows the Carter family's history from the 1891 birth of A.P. Carter, the musical founder, up through the late 1970s, offering background on the social, economic and technological developments that spawned American folk, country and rock music. The Carter family got its official start when A.P. dragged his wife, Sara, and his pregnant sister-in-law Maybelle to Bristol, Tenn., to sing for a record company scout. The Carters' performance with A.P. singing bass, Sara and Maybelle singing harmony, and Maybelle on guitar earned them a recording contract and a legendary career that spanned three generations. Family and friends reminisce about the forbidden love affair that broke up the Original Carters; Hank Williams's attempt to shoot June Carter; how June and Maybelle Carter sustained June's husband, Johnny Cash, through his drug addiction; and other colorful episodes from the Carters' lives. Zwonitzer writes with flair, weaving anecdotes into a compelling study that will intrigue historians and music lovers alike.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

With an eye for biographical detail and just the right helping of the vernacular, documentary filmmaker Zwonitzer and Hirshberg, the author of biographies of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, tell the historically important and fascinating story of the Carter family and their music. From the original 1927 recordings of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter, through the 1940s and 1950s tours of "Mother" Maybelle and her daughters, to the marriage of June Carter and Johnny Cash, the history of this family of country musicians and their legacy unfolds through well-written prose. Highlights of the book include a chapter on the importance of the Original Carter Family's broadcasts on the titanic Mexico/U.S. border radio station XERA and the authors' material on the roots of some of the songs found, reworked, and newly composed by A.P. Carter songs that link modern country music to the traditional folk music of the 19th century. This is not, however, a thorough study of the individual songs themselves. Through the many anecdotes and quotations, garnered from interviews with surviving family members and from study of previously published material, the Carters and their associates come across as real people perhaps the book's greatest contribution. Highly recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries with a focus on American vernacular music. James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (July 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684857634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684857633
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #462,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is not a dull page in this 397 page account of The Carter Family. The writers manage to strike a happy medium between a scholarly treatise and a popular biography, something I find very appealing. In addition to being a biography of the Carters, the book also is a history of country music in the first half of the Twentieth Century roughly and a statement on rural Southern sociology of the time as well.
The book is full of information that I suspect is told for the first time as well as trivia many of us knew but had forgotten: For example, there was a time when soft drinks were called "dopes" in East Tennessee. I had forgotten that and that my aunt wore Blue Waltz perfume. (There is a funny account of Maybelle's breaking a bottle of this dreadful perfume she was using as a slide for her guitar in a recording session.) I laughed out loud to learn that Helen Carter, who could learn to play any instrument almost immediately, was having trouble with her first accordian. It took Pee Wee King's telling her she was playing the instrument upside down to get her on the right track. The Original Carter Family was the first group to let the women lead as opposed to being backup singers. The less than admirable Ralph Peer of the recording industry coined the term "hillbilly" for the kind of music Carters and other country Southerners played in the early part of the 20th Century. There is a good account of A. P.'s collecting mountain songs all over the South. That contribution alone would make him a giant in folk/country music. Finally we learn a great deal about both generations of this great family, from A. P., Sarah and Maybelle to "Mama" Maybelle and her daughters. I was pleased to learn, for example, that Maybelle was as good and kind a person as she always seemed to be.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To all but a few of us -- that "few" being those who knew them personally -- A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter have always been little more than stoic, unsmiling, unreadable faces on the covers of Carter Family reissues. Mark Zwonitzer, assisted by Charles Hirshberg, manages to put breath and life into these three giants of country and folk music. Though they were ordinary people, they possessed an extraordinary gift, and it took them far from the shadow of their native home in Clinch Mountain, Virginia, and into the ears and hearts of people all over the world -- yet without ever revealing very much of anything about themselves.
In a number of ways, this is a sad story. Alvin Pleasant Carter emerges as something of a tragic figure. He is also by far the most interesting personality of the three, even if not possessed of the stunning musical talents of Sara and Maybelle. The book comes most to life, in my opinion, when A. P., without whom none of us would have heard of the Carter Family, is at its center.
As a purely human story, Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? -- the title comes from one of the family's most doleful songs -- will keep you reading far into the night. In focusing on the personal aspects, however, it foregoes the sort of deeper musical analysis some of us would like to have seen. It also lacks a discography, which one would have thought essential to a volume of this kind. Even so, this is a welcome, informative book which treats its subjects with an appealing warmth devoid of sentimental gloss.
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Format: Hardcover
Zwonitzer's look at the First Family of Country Music, the Carter Family, is long overdue, but very much welcome. Finally the information and stories that fans have been waiting decades for come to life on the book's pages. And what stories they are...
I wish I could have been in Bristol when A.P., his wife Sara, and cousin Maybelle Carter made their first recording for Ralph Peer. It had to be one of those timeless moments in music history when someone realized that everything that had come before was about to change. Zwonitzer captures that moment and many others for the reader. The story of how the Carter Family was formed, thrived, soared, and then torn apart is a story that beats the heck out of any soap opera. It's a wonderful story, an inspiring story, and ultimately a heartbreaking story. The style of writing is familiar and comfortable, like an old uncle sitting on the front porch, telling you what it was like when the Carter Family was still around.
The best part of the book is the close examination of each of the three principal players in the Carter Family saga: The quiet, never-sitting-still A.P., leaving home for days on end, seeking out new songs for the group while further alienating his already distant wife Sara, the one person he could never forget. Maybelle, who loved performing almost as much as she loved her family. Her style of guitar playing is still studied and imitated by guitarists all over the world. And Sara - perhaps the most tragic figure of all...but I won't tell you the full story. (Otherwise you might not buy the book!)
'Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone' tells these stories so well that when it strays away from the three principal players, I grew less interested. It seemed much attention and far too many pages were devoted to too many minor characters.
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