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. 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. 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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