Martha Carson

Singer of the gospel hit 'Satisfied'

Martha Carson was a Southern Gospel musician whose dynamic performance style was an important influence upon singers such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Ray and Barbara Mandrell. Her biggest hit, "Satisfied" (1951), which she wrote herself, became the first gospel song to top the country charts and has since been covered by scores of artists.

Irene Amburgey (Martha Carson), singer and guitarist: born Neon, Kentucky 19 March 1921; married 1939 James Roberts (marriage dissolved 1951), 1953 Xavier Cossé (deceased; two sons); died Nashville, Tennessee 16 December 2004.

Martha Carson was a Southern Gospel musician whose dynamic performance style was an important influence upon singers such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Ray and Barbara Mandrell. Her biggest hit, "Satisfied" (1951), which she wrote herself, became the first gospel song to top the country charts and has since been covered by scores of artists.

She was born Irene Amburgey in 1921 in the coal-mining region of eastern Kentucky, and her interest in music was fired by her banjo-playing father. Together with her siblings Bertha and Opal, she formed an act named the Sunshine Sisters and they began to sing regularly on radio stations across Kentucky and West Virginia. In 1939 she met and married James Roberts, a singer and guitarist whose father, Fiddlin' Doc Roberts, had been among the first hillbilly musicians to record a substantial body of work.

By now the sisters were performing under the more alliterative sobriquets Martha, Mattie (Opal) and Minnie (Bertha) and gained further exposure on John Lair's famous radio show The Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Martha, however, was increasingly drawn to the idea of working with her husband and they formed a duo specialising in country gospel. With the stage names James and Martha Carson, the "Barn Dance Sweethearts", they enjoyed substantial success on WSB, Atlanta and cut a handful of records.

By 1950 James's affairs had led to the couple's separation and divorce. Following particularly vitriolic criticism from one fan, Martha was moved to write "Satisfied". Scribbled quickly on the back of a cheque, the song came to the attention of Nashville publisher Fred Rose, who arranged a recording contract with Capitol Records.

Further recording sessions produced classic songs such as "I Wanna Rest", "I'm Gonna Walk and Talk With My Lord", "Cryin' Holy Unto the Lord" (all 1952), and "Singin' on the Other Side" (1953). She toured extensively, joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry and, at a concert in Memphis, Tennessee, was joined on stage by the then unknown Elvis Presley. Her performances electrified audiences, as the country star Connie Smith later recalled:

She was the first Grand Ole Opry star I ever saw in person. I remember the way she played that guitar, the red hair, the curls coming down the front. She was so energetic and so powerful: if she'd walked out of the building and kept singing on down the street, I believe everybody in that theatre would have followed her.

In 1954 she switched from Capitol to RCA and recorded a pair of acclaimed albums, Journey to the Sky (1955) and Rock-a-My Soul (1957). Under the influence of the promoter Xavier Cossé, who had become her second husband, her music had acquired a smoother sound and a crossover appeal.

In the 1960s, it became clear that the demand for this pop-oriented style was on the wane and Carson returned to her roots. Over the next couple of decades she continued to tour, but the pressures of family life, combined with her husband's poor health, led eventually to her semi-retirement.

Paul Wadey



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