They recorded first in Bristol, Tennessee, in August of 1927, under the direction of Ralph Peer. The Victor Talking Machine company released some of their records that fall; by 1930 they had sold over 300,000 records.
Sara divorced A.P. in 1936, remarried and moved to California with her new husband's family. The group continued making music but finally disbanded in 1944. The second generation of the Carter Family consisted of Mother Maybelle and her daughters Anita, June, and Helen. They, along with their electric guitar player, a fellow named Chet Atkins, joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.
Mother Maybelle and her daughters (minus Atkins) carried on the Carter tradition in the late '50s and '60s, riding the folk wave. Their appearance on Johnny Cash's second TV show in 1969 (June married Johnny in 1968) introduced their traditional style to an even larger audience.
The song "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was written in 1926 and was first recorded by the Carter Family in 1936. This was the year that Sara left A.P. but that's her voice and Maybelle's on the harmonies. In this great video, put together by shallowford, you can see a sad wistfulness in Sara's face and resignation in A.P.'s.
Sara, it seems, was not as ambitious or driven as was her husband A.P. who was gone a lot during the early days of their marriage, traveling Appalachia looking for songs. Plus, he had a temper. In A.P.'s absence in 1933, Sara fell for a fellow named Coy Bays. They had a somewhat public courtship (people knew about it) that went on for almost three years.
So it's clear that there were already strains and tensions in the marriage when the Carter Family recorded "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" in 1936. I suppose it's one of those rare instances when the emotion of a song is very close to the emotional state of (at least two of) its performers.
I've selected what is arguably the Carter Family's most famous song "Wildwood Flower" to serve as an example of the second generation's work. It was originally recorded in their May 27, 1928, session, but Mother Maybelle and her daughters continued to perform it regularly throughout their career.
It's also the first song I learned to pick on the guitar and remains a favorite of mine. The main reason I used it as an example here though, is to illustrate Maybelle's "Carter Scratch" guitar technique. She has the capo way down the neck but the style is unmistakable.
Over time "No Depression" has become a most famous Carter tune and has been covered by many artists from the New Lost City Ramblers to Sheryl Crow. The 1936 recording features both Sara and Maybelle on guitars and A.P. sings the lead.