Moonshine Kate

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Rosa Lee Carson

Also Known As: "Moonshine Kate"
Death: November 07, 1992 (81)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Fiddlin' John Carson and Jennie Nora Carson

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Moonshine Kate

Moonshine Kate (born Rosa Lee Carson, October 10, 1909, Atlanta, Georgia - 1992, Bainbridge, Georgia) was an American country and folk guitarist and banjo player who is best known for recording with her father Fiddlin' John Carson and his band, the Virginia Reelers. Kate was among the earliest recorded women in country music, and arguably her best remembered song was a rendition of her father's composition "Little Mary Phagan".

Carson was born the youngest of nine children in Atlanta, Georgia. As early as the age of five, she appeared as a vocalist and dancer at stage shows and political rallies as an accompaniment to her father's musical act. By age 14, Carson proficiently performed with the guitar and banjo as she played alongside her father on Atlanta's flagship radio station, WSB, and toured with him and the Virginia Reelers throughout Georgia. When Carson graduated from high school, she became a permanent member of the band.

In June 1925, Carson made her recording debut accompanying her father on guitar on four sides for OKeh Records. In the same session, she also recorded two solo efforts, "The Lonely Child", which was about a lonely wandering orphan, and "Little Mary Phagan". The somber ballad was composed by Fiddlin' Jon Carson in 1915, as a response to the notorious, and highly publicized murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, which was allegedly perpetrated by her manager, Leo Frank. She played and recorded with the Virginia Reelers until 1934, adopting the stage name Moonshine Kate in 1928 at the suggestion of Okeh Records man Polk Brockman. Many of Kate's recordings for Okeh play up her name, consisting of short musical passages interspersed with quick-witted dialogues revolving around the moonshine trade.

The Great Depression ended the Carsons' recording days, and she continued to perform intermittently, also working with Eugene Talmadge on his 1932 bid for Governor of Georgia and for the Atlanta Department of Recreation. She married in 1944 and retired in Georgia. In 1983, both she and her father were inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.


Rosa Lee Carson, better known as Moonshine Kate, was one of the first women to record country music during the 1920s and one of the genre's earliest female comedians. Her father, Fiddlin' John Carson, made the first successful country record in 1923 and went on to become one of the most extensively recorded country stars of the 1920s. Rosa Lee Carson sang and played guitar and banjo with her father and his band, the Virginia Reelers, first on radio broadcasts and then on more than 100 recordings for the OKeh and Bluebird labels between 1925 and 1934.

Rosa Lee Carson, born in Atlanta on October 10, 1909, was the youngest of nine children of Jenny Nora Scroggins and John Carson. She began singing and buck-and-wing dancing at stage shows and political rallies as part of her father's musical act when she was five years old. By the age of fourteen she was already proficient on the guitar and the banjo. During the early 1920s she began performing with her father on Atlanta's flagship radio station, WSB, and touring with him and the Virginia Reelers at stage shows throughout Georgia and the Southeast. After graduating from high school, Carson became a permanent member of her father's band.

Carson made her recording debut in June 1925 at the age of fifteen, when she accompanied her father on guitar on four songs for OKeh Records. At the session she also recorded two solo sides, "The Lone Child," a Tin Pan Alley song about a ragged, wandering orphan boy, and "Little Mary Phagan," a sentimental ballad, composed in 1915 by her father, in response to the Leo Frank case.

For the next nine years Carson accompanied her father and the Virginia Reelers on tour and on recording sessions in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Camden, New Jersey. In addition to the recordings she made with her father, she also recorded a handful of solos and duets on which she sang lead, including "The Drinker's Child," "Texas Blues," "The Last Old Dollar Is Gone," and "The Poor Girl Story." In 1928 Polk Brockman, OKeh's Atlanta records distributor and talent scout, gave Carson the nickname Moonshine Kate to enhance her hillbilly image, and she embraced it proudly for the rest of her life.

Between 1928 and 1930 Carson performed with her father on eighteen skit recordings for OKeh Records, including "Moonshine Kate," "John Makes Good Licker," and "Corn Licker and Barbecue, Parts 1 & 2." These skits, combining comedic dialogues with brief musical interludes, revolved around the manufacture and consumption of moonshine whiskey in the north Georgia mountains. On them, she played Moonshine Kate, the spirited, sharp-tongued hillbilly daughter of her father's moonshiner character.

After the collapse of record sales during the Great Depression ended their recording contract, Carson and her father worked as campaign entertainers for Eugene Talmadge's 1932 Georgia gubernatorial campaign and in several of his subsequent campaigns for governor and U.S. senator. When she wasn't performing, Carson worked for the Atlanta Department of Recreation during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1944 she married Wayne Johnson, an Atlanta machinist. She lived briefly in Portland, Maine, where her husband was stationed in the navy during World War II (1941-45), but after his discharge they returned to the Atlanta area.

After retiring, Carson and her husband ran a fishing lodge on Lake Seminole, near Donalsonville. In later years she gave numerous interviews about early-twentieth-century Atlanta and its old-time music scene, including a series of oral histories with Gene Wiggins for his 1987 biography of her father, Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy. In 1983 Carson and her father were among the first group of old-time musicians inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. She died in 1992 in Bainbridge at the age of eighty-three.

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Moonshine Kate's Timeline

July 31, 1911
November 7, 1992
Age 81