The Sunshine Sisters
L-R: Minnie, Mattie and Martha
Irene Ethel "Martha Carson" Amburgey b 19 May 1921 Neon, Letcher Co KY d Thursday, 16 Dec 2004 Nashville, TN age 83 (see
Robert Humphrey Amburgey and Gertrude Quillen. Irene Ethel "Martha Carson"
Amburgey m. 1953 to (2) Xavier Cosse b ? d Nov 1990. Children of Irene Ethel "Martha
Carson" Amburgey and Xavier Cosse;
1. Andre Michel Cosse (male)
2. Rene Paul Cosse (male)
Irene Ethel Amburgey was known professionally as Martha
Carson, sang solo, and with Coon Creek Girls at Renfro Valley and Grand Ole
Oprey, Nashville, TN. She married (1) James Roberts, son of country music's Doc
Roberts; Married (2) Xavier Cosse. Two children; Andre Michel Cosse and Rene
Paul Cosse. Martha Carson Highway near Neon, Kentucky was named in her honor.
More about the
Amburgey Sisters, the Quillen Quartet and the Amburgey Talent
James Carson was the son of the legendary "Fiddlin' Dock"
Roberts. Along with Asa Martin, Ted Chestnut, father "Fiddlin' Dock Roberts, and
other musicians made many stage appearances throughout Kentucky.
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
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
specializing 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
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 Cosse, 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.
Irene Amburgey (Martha Carson), singer and guitarist: born Neon, Kentucky 19
March 1921; married 1939 James Roberts (marriage dissolved 1951), 1953 Xavier
Cosse (deceased; two sons); died Nashville, Tennessee 16 December 2004.
Called “The First Lady of
Gospel Music”, Martha began as guitar player with her sisters Jean and Berthey
(“Mattie and Minnie”) as “The Sunshine Sisters” in 1936. The Sunshine Sisters
performed on WLAP Lexington (Kentucky) until 1938. For John Lair at the Renfro
Valley Barn Dance, she and her sisters also performed with Lily Mae Ledford in
1939 as the Coon Creek Girls (replacing some original members), and by
themselves in 1940 as the Hoot Owl Holler Girls. In 1939, she married
mandolin-player James Carson Roberts while performing at the WSB ‘Barn Dance’ in
Atlanta, Georgia. The couple began using the stage name ‘Carson’ at this time
and became one of the most popular acts of that region, eventually signing with
In 1950, while performing at
WNOX in Knoxville, the couple divorced. As a response to the stress of the
divorce, Martha composed “Satisfied”, inspired by a thought that came to her
while riding to a gig with Bill Carlisle: “I’m satisfied and God is satisfied
with me.” Martha wrote the lyrics on the back of a blank check she found on the
floor of Bill’s car.
“Satisfied” – recorded in 1951 with Chet Atkins, Bill Carlisle, and sisters Jean
and Berthey among the back-up musicians – went on to sell over one-million
On the strength of
“Satisfied”, Martha was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1952.
Martha toured with Elvis
Presley, Ferlin Huskey, Del Reeves, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Patsy Cline. Elvis
also recorded satisfied and borrowed Martha’s dramatic set-ending stance of
dropping to one knee and holding the mic stand at an angle.
Martha appeared on a number
of early television programs including those hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Ray
Bolger, Ralph Emery, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan.
In 1996, a highway near
Neon, Kentucky was named the “Martha Carson Highway” in her honor.
Early life and rise to fame
Carson was born Irene Amburgey in Neon, Letcher County, Kentucky (now absorbed
into Fleming-Neon, Letcher County, Kentucky). She and her two sisters were
spotted by radio barn-dance impresario John Lair and invited to join the cast of
the WSB Barn Dance in Atlanta in 1938. The Amburgey sisters were given the
fanciful hayseed names of Minnie, Marthie, and Mattie. After Irene Amburgey left
the group and teamed with her husband, mandolin player James Carson, in the
1940s, the stage name stuck and she became Martha Carson. The duo performed
(with Martha on guitar) as the "Barn Dance Sweethearts". By the time of her
divorce from James Carson in 1950, Martha had begun making solo appearances on
Knoxville's WNOX radio. However, she couldn't record because the Barn Dance
Sweethearts' label, Capitol, had them contracted through 1957 and refused to let
her go solo, instead trying to pair her up with other male singers.
She began doing session work instead, appearing on The Carlisles' "Too Old to
Cut the Mustard" and other recordings by that group of unrelated performers
headed by WNOX stalwart Bill Carlisle.
1950 – 1959: The height of her career
Things began to change after Carson met Fred Rose in Nashville. He helped
convince Capitol to let her record alone, and in 1951 she made her solo-single
debut with "Satisfied", a gospel song she had written in response to audience
disapproval over her divorce. The combination of Carson's powerful alto voice
and the song's propulsive handclap backbeat formed one of the blocks on which
early rock & roll was built. The song featured backup by Carlisle, Chet Atkins,
and Carson's sister, Opal, now known as Jean Chapel. Although the song was not a
hit at first, it gained momentum continuously over the next several years.
By this time, Carson had written over 24 songs, and toured with Country stars,
such as Ferlin Husky, Jimmy Dickens, and Elvis Presley. After their
performances, she and Presley sang gospel duets, and he later claimed that she
had more influence on his stage style than anyone else.
In 1954, she married her second husband, Xavier Crosse, a Pop music promoter.
Thanks in part to her husband, Carson was able to acquire a recording contract
with RCA Records in 1955, for whom she released her first studio album that same
By 1955, Carson was living and recording all her work in New York. She had a
series of minor hits that included "Journey to the Sky", "This Ole House", and
"Saints and Chariot", a combination of two old favorites that Presley later
covered in concert. After signing with the William Morris Agency in 1957, Carson
and Crosse became full-time residents of New York, and she gained national
exposure by appearing on The Steve Allen Show. She moved temporarily away from
gospel-oriented music and toward citified country-pop, appearing on Tennessee
Ernie Ford's television program and pursuing a style shaped in part by his big,
low vocals and pop orchestral arrangements. It was a successful move for a time,
but by the late '50s, her star began to wane.
1960 – 2004: Later career
She remained in the music scene during the later 60s and the 70s, writing and
performing in Tennessee, but she did not record again until the Starday/Gusto
company approached her in 1977, asking her to re-record some of her songs for a
Greatest Hits album. Martha agreed, and even recorded some of the new songs she
had recently written.
In the late 70s, with her two sons grown, she began to devote more time to her
love of music, playing many areas of the southern states. Audiences greeted her
with great affection. She made appearances on The Ralph Emery Show and The
Nashville Network, and one of her songs was featured on an episode of the TV
series Fame in 1983. Her comeback was cut short by the untimely illness of her
husband, Xavier. She went into retirement to care for him until his death in
In 2001, Carson was given a big 80th birthday party attended by many well-known
Country singers, including Melba Montgomery, Sonny James, Kitty Wells, and
Stonewall Jackson. On December 16, 2004, at 1:00 PM, Carson passed away at 83
years of age.