Sara Elizabeth Carter

Is your surname Carter?

Research the Carter family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Sara Elizabeth Carter (Dougherty)

Birthplace: Wise, Virginia, United States
Death: January 08, 1979 (80)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Sevier Dougherty and Elizabeth Nancy Dougherty
Ex-wife of A. P. Carter
Mother of Janette Carter; Joe D. Carter and Private

Occupation: Voice of the Carter Family
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Sara Elizabeth Carter

Sara Carter (July 21, 1898 – January 8, 1979) was an American Country music musician. Known for her deep and distinctive singing voice, she was the lead singer on most of the recordings of the historic Carter Family act in the 1920s and 1930s.


Born Sara Elizabeth Dougherty in Copper Creek, Virginia, (Rich Valley), she was the daughter of William Sevier Dougherty and Nancy Elizabeth Kilgore. Sara married A. P. Carter on June 18, 1915, but they were later divorced in 1939. They had three children: Gladys (Millard), Janette (Jett), and Joe.

In 1927, she and A.P. began performing as the Carter Family, perhaps the first commercial rural Country music group. They were joined by her cousin, Maybelle, who was married to A.P.'s brother, Ezra Carter. She later remarried to Coy Bayes, A.P.'s first cousin, and moved to California in 1943, and the original group disbanded. In the late 1940s, Maybelle began performing with her daughters Helen, June, and Anita as The Carter Sisters (the act was renamed The Carter Family during the 1960s).

On some Carter Family recordings, Sara is incorrectly credited as author of the songs "Forty Miles of Elbow Room" and "Keep on the Firing Line"; in truth she discovered these public domain songs when they were being sung at a Seventh-day Adventist church she visited. RCA gave her songwriter credit, as it did A. P. Carter on his public domain discoveries. The Carter Family recordings of these tunes did however bring the songs wide fame and are largely responsible for their being known today.

Sara reunited with Maybelle briefly in the 1960s for two albums and briefly performed together during the folk music craze of the time. The duo were also featured as guests in a late 1960s episode of The Wilburn Brothers television show.


Carter was inducted as part of The Carter Family in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 along with Bill Monroe. In 1993, her image appeared on a U.S. postage stamp honoring the Carter Family. In 2001 she was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.

Never particularly enjoying the limelight, Sara Carter lived privately thoroughout her life and left the promotion and care of the Carter Family legacy to others. Nevertheless, her contribution to the group was invaluable and as a country music female vocalist she strongly influenced generations of women, including Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard, Skeeter Davis, and Loretta Lynn with her blunt, "from the heart" vocals.

On her 2008 album All I Intended to Be, Emmylou Harris includes the song, "How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower", co-written with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, about the relationship between Sara and A.P., inspired by a documentary that the three of them saw on

view all

Sara Elizabeth Carter's Timeline

July 21, 1898
Wise, Virginia, United States
July 2, 1923
Maces Spring, Scott, Virginia, United States
February 27, 1927
January 8, 1979
Age 80