A guitar once owned by “Mother Maybelle” Carter, a member of one of country music’s most influential families, has been acquired by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Gibson L-5 acoustic guitar had been on loan to the museum since 1998 but was reclaimed by the owner in May and listed for sale at $575,000.
Philanthropist Bob McLean donated $1 million to the Hall of Fame to purchase the guitar, saying historic instruments such as Carter’s guitar belong in the museum.
“Not because they’re fancy, expensive instruments but because the world was changed by the music created with them,” he said. “They belong here because people need to connect with their past.”
Carter bought the guitar, then a top-of-the-line model, for $275 in 1928 and played it until her death in 1978. She used it on most of her recordings and to pioneer a playing style in which she picked the melody on the lower strings while strumming the chords on the higher ones. The technique, called the “Carter Scratch,” has been widely imitated.
“‘Mother Maybelle’ Carter is really the person who introduced the guitar as a lead instrument in country music,” said Hall of Fame Director Kyle Young. “She belongs to a small group of blues, country and other roots musicians whose playing style and instrumentation provided a foundation for nearly every genre of popular music.
“Who knows? If it hadn’t been for Mother Maybelle, Chet Atkins might well have become a famous fiddler and Jimi Hendrix might have been a banjo master.”
‘Where it all started’McLean, an amateur musician who described himself as a “behind the curtain-type guy,” was coaxed onto the stage at the Hall of Fame for Monday’s announcement of the acquisition. He picked a bit of the Carter Family classic “Wildwood Flower” on Maybelle’s guitar with Vince Gill and Marty Stuart.
Banjo great Earl Scruggs, his son Randy Scruggs, the Whites and Carter family descendants John Carter Cash and Carlene Carter performed other Carter Family songs.
Gill said his father taught him to play “Wildwood Flower,” the first song he ever learned on the guitar.
“I don’t think anything we’ve ever done can touch this,” said Gill, president of the Country Music Foundation Board. “This is the single most important piece of our history, probably that we will ever have. This is where it all started.”
The original Carter Family — Maybelle, Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Carter and his wife, Sara — popularized numerous songs they brought from the Virginia hills. Their first recordings, made in Bristol, Tenn., in 1927 for the Victor Talking Machine Co., were among the earliest in country music.
After the original Carter trio split up in 1943, Maybelle and her daughters — Helen, June and Anita — performed as the Carter Family. June went on to marry country legend Johnny Cash. Both died last year.