The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and the Virginia General Assembly have named Rita Janette Forrester, granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, as the 2022 recipient of their Outstanding Virginian Award. She accepted the award earlier this month in the General Assembly building in Richmond.
Rita has honored her mother Janette Carter’s promise to A.P. on his deathbed that she would keep the Carter Family music alive, by continuing to operate The Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA, where the family lived most of their lives. Janette ran the live music venue until she died in 2006, and Rita now manages the facility, which hosts concerts each week of old time, bluegrass, and early country music.
The Outstanding Virginian Award has been presented since 1983 when in was established as a joint project of the Batten Center and the Virginia legislature. Batten was a prominent Virginian himself, and former publisher of The Virginian Pilot newspaper in Norfolk. He built a sizable media empire during his lifetime and was extremely influential in Virginia business circles.
The award is typically given for either public service, often to notable politicians, and to those making particular contributions in the arts. Ralph Stanley received the award in 2008.
Music historians often describe The Carter Family as having invented country music, or at least being present at its inception, owing to iconic recordings they made for Ralph Peer in 1927. Peer had advertised throughout Appalachia in local newspapers of his interest in recording folk musicians in the area, and would travel to various locations using newly developed equipment from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to capture them in performance. His 1927 stop in Bristol discovered a number of early country artists, including Jimmie Rodgers.
The influence of the Carters continued for multiple generations, with June Carer, daughter of A.P. and Sara’s sister in law, Maybelle, became a very popular personality on the Grand Ole Opry, and was married to Johnny Cash. The songs the family introduced are still performed today, with classics such as Wildwood Flower, Can The Circle Be Unbroken, Keep On The Sunny Side, and Wabash Cannonball attributed to them.
Congratulations to Rita for this high honor!
More information on The Carter Family Fold can be found online.