Johnson City native Bob Cox is a longtime contributor to the Johnson City Press. He shares his vast knowledge of his hometown's history with readers each week. Reach Bob Cox at or


A composite photo shows The Carter Family, top center, the Johnson Family Singers, left, and the Speer Family.

The Carter Family

The Carter Family comes from a breathtakingly beautiful location at the foot of Clinch Mountain in western Virginia, near the Tennessee line. Carters have always been in that valley, as far as its residents can recall.

The family of singers stemmed from A.P. Carter and Sara Daugherty. Young Carter roamed out of the valley to neighboring Wise County on a salesman’s trip. He sold fruit trees for his living and sang his songs as a hobby.

When he met Sara, he found a pretty girl who helped work her father’s farm, but who spent her after-choir hours singing the songs of the hills.

Carter tried to sell his trees with little success, but he didn’t return empty-handed. He brought Sara back as his bride and the couple settled in the valley.

Not too long after the wedding Sara’s cousin, Maybelle Addington, dropped in for a visit. She brought her guitar and banjo along, and this pretty miss caught the eye and ear of Carter’s brother.

Soon, Maybelle became a Carter and settled into life in the village. With three musicians in the family, it was only natural that the long summer evenings be spent in playing and singing the old songs and in making up new ones. Good news travels fast, and it wasn’t long before The Carter Family had a reputation and a large following.

The family’s fame spread out of the tiny valley and into nearby towns and cities. They sang at school entertainments, church socials and other functions in the region.

Pretty soon, RCA Victor recording representatives heard of them and looked them up. A company representative heard them sing and signed them to a recording contract that was to spread their music and their fame out of the valley and all over the world.

The Speer Family Sang with a Beat, and With Deep Feelings

The Speer Family just naturally always sang together in the best tradition of the small towns and farm country of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, where Mom and Dad Speer and their children were born and raised.

But it was in the early Depression-ridden years of the 1930s when the Speer Family found itself the proud possessors of one veery poor farm and a lot of singing ability that they decided to make a career of music, beginning with “All-Day Sings” — the Sunday afternoon picnic and gospel music fests.

The Johnson Family Singers

The Johnson Family Singers were less influenced by popular styles than others that sang: revivals, choirs and informal musicales were the chief bill of fare, even when they joined station WBT in the early 1940s. Nearly two million people heard their famous “Carolina Calling” program.

Bob Cox may be reached at or

Bob Cox may be reached at or