The head of the trio is A.P. Carter. He is with his wife, Sara on autoharp, and Sara’s guitar-playing first cousin, Maybelle Carter – who was married to A.P.’s brother, Ezra. They had been performing in schoolhouses and churches throughout their native Virginia as well as in eastern Tennessee, Kentucky and in North Carolina.
How They Learned the Song
In 1906, an English professor at the University of Missouri who’s part of an old folk songs collectors club archived the song. The Carter Family wasn’t the first to record it, but they were the folks that made it popular, releasing it in 1935. The song has several covers by a wide range of artists from Woody Guthrie to Natalie Merchant. It has since become an old-time, bluegrass and folk favorite. In a 1970 interview, Maybelle Carter said of the song,
“That was a song we had sang all our lives. We first heard the song at a family get-together and decided to learn it. We did learn the words and sang it all our family parties and get-togethers. The song became quite popular so when we recorded for RCA Victor in 1927, we recorded ‘Bury Me Beneath the Willow’.”
The Carters first recorded ‘Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow’ on their first Bristol session. Each song yielded them $50 in addition to a half-cent for each copy sold.
Why The ‘Weeping Willow Tree’?
In a nutshell, it’s a sad song about a distressed girl who wants to die and be buried under a weeping willow tree hoping that her former lover will weep for her. Her former lover cheated on her and is now with someone else. The woman hoped that perhaps her lover will think of her. Or, perhaps her lingering memory haunts him. We know that a willow tree symbolizes nature and life. It also represents balance, learning, growth, and harmony. For it to be weeping? That means something. The willow tree then is the song, is a symbol of unrequited love. Today, we also going to be hearing tons of different versions of each stanza. The stanza below is originally from The Carters,
“They told me that he did not love me
I could not believe it was true
Until an angel softly whispered
He has proven untrue to you.”
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