January 26th, 2006. Janette Carter, sole surviving child of A.P. and Sara Carter of the original Carter Family, and mother of Rita Forrester and Dale Jett, died Jan. 22, 2006.
Jim, Bill, Joe and I sang at the funeral Jan. 26th. It was held at the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church just a few miles down the road from the old store and the Carter Family Fold.
It was announced as a service for the family (an open Memorial Service was held at the Fold the following Sunday) but the little church was full to busting. There were three preachers. The oldest one, a kindly faced white haired gent, won me over with his quotes from Longfellow and a reference to Janette's embodiment of the first two Commandments and the unpretentious and loving attitude she unconditionally bore to her fellow human beings. He illustrated this tendency by an incident which occurred when Janette went to the U.K. a couple of years ago to take part in a Carter Family retrospective sponsored by a prestigious folklore foundation. One of the dignitaries visiting the affair was Margaret Thatcher, to whom Janette was introduced. When asked what they talked about Janette replied: "I just said 'Honey, how are you?'"
We sang three songs for the service" "Uncloudy Day", "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room", and "Amazing Grace" which was in particular a special request from Janette, according to Rita. We'd never sung "Amazing Grace" before as a group, but the congregation leapt right in and helped us out.
I was amazed at the outpouring of sheer love for Janette and her life and accomplishment. It filled that little church and it filled the whole valley. It strikes one how much better off the world has been left by the achievements of that magnificient family. It's evident in the hearts and minds of millions of music lovers all over the world. (I met a woman who first heard the Carter Family when she was a teenager growing up in Austria -- she didn't even understand English yet that music made a life long impression.) It's evident too right there Poor Valley where it all started. The folks around have taken to naming their driveways and sidestreets after Carter Family songs, so there were lots of bright blue signs reading "Hello Stranger Drive", "Keep on the Sunnyside Street" and "Weeping Willow Lane" and even a "RingFire Road" after Johnny Cash. Janette has carried on the musical tradition that her parents helped bring to the world and I know they would be so proud of her. She has invited whole new generations into that uplifting world and given them a precious access. She started Saturday nights of music at the old A.P. Carter Store 30+ years ago. Then she and Joe built the Fold and have kept up the tradition ever since. Last year Joe died, and now Janette.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. There was a graveside service. Dave Morris of the old Morris Brothers band sang a song he'd written for Janette, Rita and Dale (her son). And then Jim and Bill and I sang "Daniel Prayed" which we had done at the Carter Fold so many times before. A red tailed hawk circled the gravesite during the service. Afterward people mingled and talked. I noticed a curious fellow lying down on A.P.'s grave and resting his head on the stone next to the name. He had lifted out his digital camera armslength and snapped a shot of himself. I showed him where Sara's grave was and we talked about the sad fact that A.P. and Sara weren't buried together (but Sara had remarried). Later on I asked someone who this fellow was. "Oh, that's Mark (Zwonitzer) -- the guy who wrote that book about the Carter Family (Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone)." Mark also wrote and directed the PBS American Experience episode about Jesse James which aired Feb. 6th.
Many friends and family were there, including some from Nashville, such as Tom T. Hall, Carlene Carter and John Carter Cash. And many old friends of ours, like Dave Morris, who had introduced us to Janette years ago, and gave us such an entree in to that world we might have never had otherwise; and John McCutcheon who had taken the red-eye straight from a gig in San Franscisco to be there. And there was Eugene Wolf (formerly of the "Brother Boys" and who plays A.P. in the musical about the Carter Family "Keep on the Sunnyside"). Eugene grew up in Sevierville area of East Tennessee just down the road on I-81. His grandmother had loved the Carter Family, but Eugene didn't know anything about them. "I knew all about Petula Clark but not what was right under my nose!" At one point we were all standing on A.P.'s grave too, talking and laughing in the sun, and I don't think A.P. would have minded one bit. We were definitely on hallowed ground.
pictures were taken by Anne Berry and are linked to larger versions.