Final Notes, Janette Carter Jett

Janette Carter Jett, 82, beloved matriarch of Scott County, Virginia’s musical Carter Family, passed away on January 22. She had endured a combination of chronic illnesses over the last several years. Janette was one of three children born to A. P. and Sara Carter. A.P. Carter was the founder and leader of the history-making trio that began recording in 1927. Three daughters born to Maybelle Carter, the other member of the original trio, have also passed away. With the passing last March of her brother Joe, Janette remained the last surviving child of members of the original Carter Family. As for the future of the Carter Fold, Rita Forrester says her mother’s objectives, policies, goals, and ambitions will continue as before.

Janette had followed her father’s last wishes—to do all she could to preserve not only Carter Family music but also the old-time folk and country music of the Appalachians by presenting country music performances at the site of the general store her father operated in his final years. Over the next several decades, those performances grew, becoming the famed Carter Family Fold, centerpiece of the not-for-profit Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc. and one of the region’s major visitors’ attractions.

—(excerpt fromCarter Fold website )

Sad news out of Maces Springs, Virginia: Janette Carter Jett, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter passed away at 6:30 this morning, January 22. I got the call just moments ago. She had been in failing health for months and was recently confined to a wheel chair and not able to participate at the Saturday night Carter Fold. Her brother, Joe, and a son, Don, preceded her in death this past year. Janette did an outstanding job of keeping alive the rich musical heritage of her talented family. Her famous dad, A.P. Carter, had specifically asked her to keep the Carter Family music alive just before he died in 1960. The reins of the Fold now lie squarely in the hands of her daughter, Rita, and her son, Dale. I became acquainted with this first family of country music years ago when I worked with Don at Carolina Eastman Company. Over time, I truly came to know, appreciate and love this outstanding musical family. We will miss you, Janette.

Bob Cox

Jim (Watson), Bill (Hicks), Joe (Newberry) and I sang at Janette Carter’s funeral yesterday (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.

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. The unpretentious and loving attitude she unconditionally bore to her fellow human beings was illustrated by an incident that 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: “Well, I just said to her ‘Honey, how are you?’ ”

We sang three songs for the service: “Uncloudy Day,” “Elbow Room,” and “Amazing Grace,” which was in particular a special request from Janette, according to Rita, her daughter. 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. It filled that little church and it filled the whole valley. I know her parents would be so proud of that what Janette accomplished. She started Saturday nights of music at the old A.P. Carter Store 30 plus 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, 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. After the service 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 held out his digital camera at arms’ length and snapped a shot of himself. I showed him where Sara’s grave was located. 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). 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.

Mike Craver

Janette’s funeral took place at Mt. Vernon Methodist Church about a mile up the road from her home. The Red Clay Ramblers (redux: Bill Hicks, Mike Craver, Jim Watson, and Joe Newberry) sang “Uncloudy Day,” “50 Miles of Elbow Room,” and “Amazing Grace.” There was subdued harmony from those gathered for the service on the first two, but on the latter, on Jim's invitation, we all joined in. The message was, simply put, that a “sermon lived is better than a sermon preached” and Janette lived a life of unconditional love.

Following the service, we gathered at the edge of the adjoining cemetery for a graveside service near A.P. Carter’s grave and beside of Janette's mother, Sara and brother, Joe’s, graves. David Morris, a regular performer at the Fold in the 1970-80s, sang an adaptation of “Sweet Winds Blowing” with verses he had written about Janette and the Fold. It was, in effect, a prophecy of the continuation of the legacy through Rita Forrester and Dale Jett, Janette's children. The Ramblers then sang “Daniel Prayed.” People lingered at the graveside for a while before gathering again at the Fold for a wonderful meal and more stories.

The Saturday evening program went on as schedule, with the Russell County Boys, a local old-time and bluegrass band, playing. The crowd was near capacity as Dale and Rita, joined by the late Carter sister, Anita’s daughter Lori and friends Oscar Harris and Ronnie Williams, started a new chapter at the Fold. Their welcoming words, interrupted several times by applause, led them into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Keep on the Sunny Side.” The songs had never been more in context than they were that night. They received a standing ovation.

As usual, the music was wonderful, the dance floor was full and many people lingered afterwards to talk and share words of condolence and support for Rita and Dale. And for the many neighbors who come every week to sell popcorn or drinks, attend the merchandise or to clean up afterwards. It is a community event. I can’t tell you how important Janette has been to the traditional music community, but she was a prism that focused a cultural rainbow that just keeps growing in scope and hue.

Tommy Bledsoe


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