The Winding Stream - The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music


There is a stream that courses through American roots music. Its source is in the Appalachian foothills in a place called Maces Springs, Virginia. It was there that A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and his sister-in-law Maybelle began their careers as three of the earliest stars of country music. From their earliest days as Victor recording artists to their international success via the phenomenon of Border Radio, the Original Carter Family made their mark on the history of American recorded music...

These three didn’t just play the music emerging from their hill country upbringing. They helped invent it. A.P. was both song collector and composer, crafting and arranging snippets of ancient, musty melodies into commercial American popular music. Maybelle took the then-underplayed guitar and made it into the cornerstone of country instrumentation that we know today. And Sara became the first well-known woman’s voice in country music, stamping it with the eerie Gothic quality we find in so much of the country canon.

The stream these three created has turned into a rushing river and has moved through several generations of musicians, both inside their family and without. There would be no Folk Revival of the ’60s without the Carters, no country–rock bands of the ’70s, and no alt-country hipsters of our present era. The Carters crossed styles, crossed genres, crossed generations. And yet, the Carters suffered periods of obscurity, with AP and Sara divorcing and – despite trying to keep the act alive – all three going their separate ways. AP died never fully realizing the impact he had on American music. Sara moved to California vowing to live a quiet life with her new husband, AP’s cousin Coy. Maybelle, fiercely devoted to music, struggled to envision what the next step would be.

The Carter story might have ended there. But it didn’t. No one would have guessed that a young man, who, at first blush, seemed more renegade than reverent adherent, would be the one to lift up the Carter legacy. That man was Johnny Cash, and his love for the Carter music dated back to nights as a boy in Dyess, Arkansas listening to the Carter Family perform on the air (at that point featuring the next generation of Carters, including little June Carter), their melodies blasting across the Mexican border into his bedside radio. It was a wonderful twist of fate when Cash, as a Sun Records artist, first met Mother Maybelle and her girls, the Carter Sisters and vowed to June that “I’m gonna marry you someday.”

The Winding Stream – a 90–minute documentary shot in High Definition – tells these stories and others through narrator–less interviews; this saga is punctuated with studio performances by celebrated roots music practitioners like Johnny and June Carter Cash, George Jones, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson and others. The film’s goal is to illuminate the foundation–forming history of this multi–generational musical family. Country music would not be what it is without them.



….A Film By Beth Harrington

Beth Harrington is an award-winning independent producer, director and writer, born in Boston and transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. Making media professionally since 1977; she most often focuses on work that explores American history, music and culture.

Harrington’s independent production Welcome to the Club – The Women of Rockabilly, a music documentary about the pioneering women of rock and roll, was honored with a 2003 Grammy nomination and has been seen on public television and at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. This and other work reflects a long-standing love of music. In a previous lifetime, she was a rock & roll singer, most noted for her years as a member of Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers on the Warner Brothers Sire Records label.

Through Boston’s Documentary Guild and WGBH, she has worked as a line producer and associate producer on various shows for PBS, among them programs for NOVA, Frontline and The Health Quarterly, as well as two PBS specials. These shows have been honored nationally with a Peabody Award (Dating in the Age of AIDS) and two Emmy nominations (In the Path of a Killer Volcano and Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back).

Harrington now enjoys a steady and productive relationship with Oregon Public Broadcasting producing, researching, and developing shows for national broadcast. She performed producer/director/writer duties for the popular PBS series History Detectives as well as Digital Television: A Cringely Crash Course, one of PBS’s first HDTV offerings. She also served as co-producer/writer of Aleutians: Cradle of the Storms for PBS and Natural History New Zealand.  In addition, she has written for various history series for OPB and Annenberg Media including The Homes of FDR, and episodes of Bridging World History and America’s History in the Making.

Harrington also works with OPB on a local level making films for their acclaimed Oregon Experience series.  She is the producer of Kam Wah Chung – the story of two Chinese men who made themselves indispensable to the Eastern Oregon community during the Gold Rush. Also for that series, she produced, directed and wrote Searching for York, the little known story of an enslaved man who served as a valued member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Both programs were nominated for Northwest Emmys in the Best Historical and Cultural Program category and in the Best Writing category. Two other films, Beervana, a “frothy” history program on Oregon beer culture, and Zigzag, an innovative environmental public affairs show have also received Northwest Emmy nominations.

Her critically acclaimed autobiographical documentary, The Blinking Madonna and Other Miracles aired on national public television and screened at numerous film festivals. Both this film and Welcome to the Club were produced in association with the Independent Television Service.

She is active in various film communities, having served on the board of Film Action Oregon, as well as the Oregon Media Production Association. She is a past President of Women in Film/New England and a former Vice President of Women in Film/Seattle. She is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. She has been a media instructor at Washington State University, Lewis & Clark College, Bunker Hill Community College, New England School of Photography, Boston Film/Video Foundation, the Northwest Film Center and the Olympia Film Society as well as an artist-in-residence at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Communications from Syracuse University and a Master’s degree in American Studies from University of Massachusetts – Boston.

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