Remembering Martha Carson

"My sister, MARTHA CARSON, passed quietly this morning at 11.30 AM, (December 16, 2004) at St. Thomas Hospital, Nashville. So sorry to be the bearer of such news!" - Don Chapel

(by Bill Turner -
           For those of you who followed the post war Country Music and Southern Gospel of the early 1950's ... Martha Carson was a performer who stylistically, was WAY ahead of her time. "The Lord's Handmaiden" as she was often billed as, was a passionate singer of Gospel songs, appearing in long flowing white gowns - she truly looked like an angel ... as I remembered her, playing a blonde DeAngelico guitar. Her visual image was breathtaking and she sang with such a 'Pentecostal' fervor ... unlike anyone else at that time ... and bear in mind that this was the time when women singers didn't front country bands. Kitty Wells was the 'breakthrough' artist on this forefront ... but Martha Carson was so unique and different; while Kitty sang the more 'conventional' themes of country music, Martha's style was fast-paced, raucous, shouting and hand clapping, not in the 'black' style - but almost in the manner of Rock & Roll ... YEARS before there was such a thing!
           Her early recordings with her husband James Carson utilized the traditional Mandolin and Guitar accompaniment and duet singing similar to that of the Louvin Brothers; and shortly thereafter as her popularity grew, the music became more 'progressive' and wilder, utilizing stride piano, 'call and answer' style chorus--which even sounded like 'shape note' Sacred Harp harmony at times, walking bass and some of the then-young Chet Atkins' most brilliant and fiery guitar playing!
           Sadly, when Martha tried to 'cross over' to the mainstream style (and themes) of country music, the staunchly religious fan base she had previously built up, did not follow her over to the other side, thus stalling her career. That was during a time period when 'spiritual' and Gospel singers just didn't chance such a venture. It would be years later before the Louvin Brothers took a similar risk, but succeeded, and decades before the Oak Ridge Boys did so likewise, also with tremendous major label success! As I'd stated earlier - Martha was just way ahead of her time.
           It has amazed me why Martha Carson had not been re-discovered by the later generations of female performers, (I've never heard ANYONE cite her as an influence as of yet) and I do not know if there are any CD compilations of her, but I would recommend the following songs to try to download ... and see if you don't agree with all that I've written! MY personal favorites are: 1) "There's A Higher Power" 2) "Inspiration" and 3) "Satisfied" Some other gems to listen to are: "Over To The Other Side Of Jordan": "Crying Holy Unto The Lord" and "I'm Gonna Walk And Talk With My Lord"
           Epilogue: The music (AND MESSAGE) of Martha Carson capture a time in American history when a spreading religious fervor was taking place in the wake of the birth of the Atomic Age, when the very real (AND STILL PRESENT) threat and fear of nuclear annhilation convinced almost all of the pioneering Radio Evangelists and Preachers that the "End Time" was finally at our back door! I can still remember listening in the night to such riveting sermons by such radio pioneers as Herbert W. Armstrong ("The World Tomorrow"); Billy Graham ("The Hour Of Decision"); H.M.S. Richards ("The Voice Of Prophecy"); Oral Roberts and the noted female preacher Kathryn Kuhlman, who also dressed in the same manner as Martha Carson, with the long flowing white gowns.
           As I listen to these recordings of Martha Carson while I'm writing this ... she often sang of the coming time when she would "...lay her burdens down..."; and of when her " on earth was done..."; when these recordings were made, that time she was singing about was yet a long way off ... for God surely kept His Handmaiden here with us for over 80 years!

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