- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

Heirs to the “first family of country music” are raising questions about several items in a cache of Carter Family memorabilia acquired this summer by Virginia Tech, but university officials are refusing to say who sold them the articles.

The treasure trove, scheduled to go on display soon at the university library’s Special Collections department, includes such personal items as Maybelle Carter’s hunting and fishing license and her Holiday Inn “Inner Circle” card.

There are also items from singer Johnny Cash - who married into the Carter family when he wedded Maybelle’s daughter June in 1968 - but the exhibition will center on the Carter Family, a touring band of “hillbilly” musicians who came to be known as the “first family of country music” in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Virginia Tech announced this week that it had acquired the material over the past four months, but turned down repeated requests to identify the seller, citing a standing university policy.

Lorrie Carter Bennett - granddaughter of Maybelle and niece of June - told The Washington Times that she did not know who sold the materials and said the family was eager to know whether some of the more personal pieces were acquired appropriately.

“They are legitimate things that” belonged to her ancestors, said Ms. Bennett, who added that she was unsure “that they were given to [Virginia Tech] in legitimate ways. … They belong in our family museum.”

She and other members of her family are worried that some of the items may have come to the university through a third party who didn’t have permission to sell them.

Items in the collection range from the aforementioned personal pieces to the historically important (Janette Carter’s memoir, “My Clinch Mountain Home”) to the collectible (Cash’s autobiography signed by his wife).

Library officials at the Blacksburg, Va., campus hope members of the general public, in addition to students and researchers, will stop by and check out the collection and also be inspired to take a look at their own family histories.

“We are working on a small display case, hopefully to open early to mid-October” said Kira Dietz, the library’s acquisitions and processing archivist. “I like to tell people that when it comes to local history material, you don’t need to be famous to have your family’s history mean something. … This is a way to bring people in and show some of the not-famous but equally exciting collections.”

The Carter-Cash materials were purchased, for an undisclosed sum, in four installments since June from a memorabilia dealer in Tennessee. They are permanent additions to Virginia Tech’s Special Collections department, which is focused on material related to Southwest Virginia and the Appalachian region.

The collection includes archival information on at least three generations of the Carter Family, which, Miss Dietz said, stretches back to the group’s formation in 1927.

Originally from Southwest Virginia, Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter, his wife, Sara, and sister-in-law, Maybelle, traveled to Bristol, Tenn., that year to audition for RCA Victor. Upon their signing, the Carters set out to tour the South, singing traditional ballads not subject to copyright protection along with some of their own original songs.

June Carter was a member of the second generation of the Carter Family, which formed in Texas at the end of the 1930s before moving to Charlotte, N.C. Janette Carter, the daughter of Sara and A.P., opened the Carter Music Center in 1974 and began presenting concerts to pay homage to the original Carter Family from the group’s ancestral home near Clinch Mountain. The third generation still performs tribute shows at the site.

The collection purchased by Virginia Tech includes items from these groups as well as spinoffs such as the Carter Sisters (one of the discographies is “The Carter Sister and Mother Maybelle: Their Complete Recordings”). There also are performance programs from the Carter Fold as well as funeral programs for June Carter and Johnny Cash - who died four months apart in 2003 - and Janette Carter (who died in 2006).

Additional exhibit items include a number of photographs of the original Carter Family and others, dating back as far as the 1930s.

Among the odder items on the exhibit list are those labeled “miscellaneous.” Included are a collectible seat cushion and a Carter Fold volunteer badge.

In a press release, Virginia Tech suggested that some of these items show the differences between the “professional and personal life” of these musicians.

Contents from the collection may be viewed online at https://ead.lib.virginia.edu/ vivaead/published/vt/ viblbv00442.xml.frame.

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