Sunday is Mother’s Day. Music, especially Folk music, is often passed down in families. Here are five examples of mothers making music with their grown children.
The Carter Family was an integral part of the history of country music in America. The original Carter Family trio of the 1920s and 30s consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and his sister-in-law Maybelle Carter (who was also Sara’s cousin).
Eventually, A.P. and Sara broke up, and so did the trio. In the 1940s, Maybelle began performing with her three daughters, Helen, Anita, and June (who later married Johnny Cash). Here they are in the 1950s on the Grand Ole Opry, performing a gem of the Carter Family repertoire, “Wildwood Flower.”
Sarah Makem was born in 1900 in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. She had a repertoire of hundreds of traditional songs, learned from her family and other musicians in the area. In 1955, Diane Hamilton, an American folksong collector, took a trip to Ireland, where she recorded Sarah Makem and her son Tommy singing this song.
Though Sarah Makem hardly ever performed in public, her son certainly did. Tommy Makem emigrated to America, where he joined the Clancy Brothers singing group and did much to popularize Irish music in this country.
Val Mindel was a founding member of San Francisco’s Any Old Time String Band and later taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Her daughter, Emily Mindel, grew up singing with her mother. They have made one album together and often join forces to teach harmony-singing workshops.
Emily is also a member of the honky-tonk band The Sweetback Sisters, and performs as a duo with her husband, Jesse Milnes. Val and Emily, backed up by Jesse on guitar, sing Joe Newberry’s “I Know Whose Tears,” a song about mother-love and bereavement.
Medicinal Purposes is a duo from the Dubuque, Iowa/Galena, Illinois area, consisting of “Cowgirl” Pearl Breitbach and Scott Kerry Guthrie. In this house concert video, they’re accompanied by Pearl’s children, River Glen and Jakob Breitbach, on bass and fiddle.
Bernice Johnson Reagon was a founding member of the Freedom Singers, who used music as part of the 1960s struggle for civil rights. She later founded the African-American women’s a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Her daughter Toshi Reagon (named after Pete Seeger’s wife) is a singer-songwriter. Bernice joined Toshi and her band BIGLovely in this 2013 appearance at Joe’s Pub in NYC.