- Helen Carter
Helen Myrl Carter Jones, better known as Helen Carter (
September 19, 1927– June 2, 1998), was an American country musicsinger. She was a member of the Carter Family.
Helen was the daughter of
Maybelle Carterand performed with her mother and her sisters, June Carterand Anita Carteras a member of "Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters". She had a professional career in music that spanned 60 years. As a child, she played to some of the largest radio audiences in history by way of the powerful signals from the Mexican Border Stations of the 1930s and 1940s. Like both of her sisters, Helen pursued a solo career apart from the family group. In the early 1950s though the 1970s, she recorded a number of singles for various historically important independent labels such as Tennessee, Republic, Starday and Hickory. She also had some releases on major labels such as Columbia and Okeh as well.
While many of Carter's solo recordings were favorites with loyal fans and always welcomed by concert goers, they did not have a great deal of commercial success. Lack of talent was certainly not the reason. Helen had perfect pitch and was a talented instrumentalist; skilled on guitar, piano, mandolin, accordion and autoharp. A likely reason for her limited success as a soloist may have been competition for radio air time with other members of her clan. The Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle group (aka the Carter Family) recorded for such labels as Liberty, Columbia and RCA Victor. At some points in time the group toured, made radio appearances and commercial recordings; and all of its members had individual recording contracts as well. As talented as the members of the group were, it must have been a nightmare to promote them and stagger their record releases to radio to avoid overkill. More often than not, the ladies sang back up on one anothers' solo recordings. Also, much like her sister Anita, Helen Carter never seemed interested in leaving the family group to launch an all out solo venture. Despite her beautiful voice, Helen very rarely sang lead in the group and seemed content to focus her efforts on harmony and instrumental backing. In the 1960s, Helen teamed with Dolores Dinning, of the
Dinning Sisters, to form a short-lived group called the Blondettes that recorded for MGM.
With the Carter Sisters and Maybelle, Helen did experience chart success. During the 1960s and 1970s, the group charted a number of singles including "Traveling Minstrel Band, The World Needs a Melody" and "A Song for Mama". Many, but not all, were duet recordings with Johnny Cash. The group frequently appeared on Cash recordings but often went uncredited. Throughout their careers, in fact, all four group members were much sought after as session musicians and backing vocalists, recording with acts like Johnny Horton, Dolly Parton, the Wilburn Brothers and many others. Even in these backing roles, the Carter's distinct vocals were instantly recognizable to fans all over the world. Helen Carter appeared regularly on tour with Johnny Cash and was a regular on his network television program and on his TV specials. Along with other members of the Carter Family, Helen received a gold record for her participation in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. II." The group sang back up on two tracks from the album.
Apart from the Carter Family, Helen's greatest commercial success came by way of her songwriting talent. Country and pop artists alike recorded songs she wrote or co-wrote. Some of her better known titles include "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea, Wall to Wall Love, Rosanna's Going Wild, Poor Old Heartsick Me" and "What am I Supposed to Do". Artists as diverse as the Louvin Brothers, Ann-Margaret, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Mark Dinning are among the more than 60 who have recorded Helen Carter compositions.
Helen remained an active performer throughout most of the remainder of her life. She recorded two solo albums for Old Homestead Records, as well as guest spots on recordings by her niece Carlene Carter and Southern Gospel artist Jacky Jack White toward the end of her life. She died of
gastrointestinalproblems in 1998. In 2006, a forgotten set of recordings that Helen made with her sisters in the 1990s were discovered and released to the public. Unlike the majority of recordings made with her family, most tracks from the collection prominently featured Helen on lead vocal.
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