Anita Carter is best known for singing with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, a family band of early country musicians.
Anita Carter was born the youngest daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter, the iconic country music star, in March of 1933 in Virginia. Born into the famed Carter Family band known for its country music, she joined the band along with her two older sisters. After the disbandment of the first iteration of the Carter Family band, Mother Maybelle Carter and her three daughters formed the group Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.
Musician Ina Anita Carter was born on March 31, 1933, in Maces Spring, Virginia, into one of country music's most famous families. Anita Carter's mother, Maybelle, was a member of the legendary Carter Family trio, which consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and his sister-in-law Maybelle. The family became one of the most influential acts in country music in the 1920s and 1930s, helping to define the sound of the modern genre.
Following a breakdown in the marriage of A.P. and Sara Carter, the original trio split up in 1943. Maybelle Carter, determined to keep the family in the music business, joined her three daughters—Helen Carter, June Carter Cash and Anita, the youngest—in a new act called Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. Later in her life, Anita would joke that despite performing for the first time at the age of 4, she didn't actually get paid until she was 6.
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters
Mother Maybelle Carter was a talented musician who played the guitar, banjo and autoharp, inspiring her children to learn multiple instruments themselves. At the age of 10, Anita Carter began playing the stand-up bass and singing soprano with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, primarily performing on the radio from their hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The mother-daughter quartet would continue to perform together on and off for the next five decades.
Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, Anita Carter continued to play and sing alongside her family as well as pursuing her own solo career. While most girls her age were getting ready for the sock hop, Carter was recording chart-topping duets with the likes of Hank Snow and Hank Williams. In 1950, the Carters became a permanent fixture in Nashville, performing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. They also opened for greats like Elvis Presley and performed with Johnny Cash.
Known for her pretty voice as well as her pretty face, Anita Carter had plenty of male admirers, even among country music legends. One Presley biographer claims she held the King's affections, as he sought to impress her on stage when the Carters toured with him in 1956 and 1957.
The Prettiest Voice in Town
Grand Ole Opry gossip notwithstanding, Anita Carter's voice was her true signature. As her sister June Carter Cash once said, "My sister had the greatest voice of anybody in this town, absolutely the prettiest voice." Anita's ethereal soprano lent itself quickly to a budding solo career that took off in the early 1960s. Along with logging plenty of studio time recording albums, Anita joined Johnny Cash's troupe, appearing regularly on tour and on his television show. Meanwhile, she found time to churn out a handful of top-charting hits, among them, "I'm Gonna Leave You" and a duet with Waylon Jennings called "I Got You," which reached the No. 4 spot on the Billboard Country chart.
Along with the more popular country-western tracks she recorded, Carter also cut two more folk-centered albums in the '60s. Most famously, on Folk Songs Old and New (1963), she recorded a song called "(Love's) Ring of Fire," co-written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. The song would later be covered by Johnny Cash, becoming the biggest hit of the Man in Black's career, staying at number one for seven weeks in 1963. The story goes that Cash heard the song, then dreamt of his own variation (complete with Mexican horns), later asking Anita Carter (his sister-in-law) if he could re-record the track if her version didn't make it to the top of the charts.
Though by the late 1970s, the Carter Family troupe had mostly gone their separate ways, they occasionally reunited on stage. When Mother Maybelle died in 1978, Helen and Anita felt a strong urge to continue the family tradition. The group incorporated a third generation into the mix, represented by June's daughter Carlene and Anita's daughter Lori. In 1982 and 1988, the Carter sisters and their daughters made albums together; in 1986, they played to a massive, adoring crowd at the Wembley Festival of Country Music.
Anita Carter was married four times in total, twice to Don Davis. Her first husband was fiddler Dale Potter, and her last husband (they divorced in 1974) was Bob Wooton, who was also a guitarist for Johnny Cash. Carter had two children, Lori Frances and Jay Davis.
Anita Carter's musical career was cut short in the 1990s by severe bouts of rheumatoid arthritis, which she had battled for many years. Eventually, due to the harsh drugs used to treat her arthritis, Carter's pancreas, kidneys and liver began to fail. In 1999, at the age of 66, she passed away in the Tennessee home of June and Johnny Cash.