Martha Carson
and Xavier Cosse

Martha Carson Sings Cryin' Holy
Martha Carson
Martha Carson - Irene Ethel Amburgey
Irene Ethel Amburgey - Martha Carson
Irene Ethel Amburgey "Martha Carson"
James Roberts and Martha Carson
James Roberts and Martha Carson
The Sunshine Sisters
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 obituary); d/o 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


Martha Carson
and James Roberts

Irene Ethel "Martha Carson" Amburgey b 19 May 1921 Neon, Letcher Co KY d Thursday, 16 Dec 2004 Nashville, TN age 83 (see obituary); d/o Robert Humphrey Amburgey and Gertrude Quillen. Irene Ethel "Martha Carson" Amburgey m. 1939 (divorced 1950) to (1) James William "James Carson" Roberts b 10 Feb 1918 Madison Co KY; s/o Phillip "Fiddlin' Dock" Roberts and Annie F Risk.

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 Music and
Biographical Information

Satisfied - Sung by Martha Carson

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 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.

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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 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.

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Martha Carson

  • Given Name: Irene Ehtel Amburgey
  • Date of Birth: May 19, 1921
  • Place of Birth: Neon, Kentucky
  • Married: James Carson, 1939
  • Date of Death: December 16, 2004
  • Place of Death: Nashville, Tennessee 

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 Capitol Records.

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 copies.

On the strength of “Satisfied”, Martha was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1952.

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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.[1]

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.

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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 year.

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.

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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 November 1990.

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.


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