Irene Amburgey was born in Neon Kentucky to a gospel singing family, “The Family Singers”. When she was ten, she traded her calf for her first guitar and taught herself to play. In her teens, she and her two sisters performed regionally as “The Sunshine Sisters” playing folk and gospel songs. Irene adopted the stage name of Marthie. When she met and married mandolin player James Carson, she became known as Martha Carson. They toured as “The Dixie Sweethearts” and recorded for Capitol records. They were successful regionally as a mandolin/guitar duo in the 1940s, but they separated in 1950. She said “He started going’ out with women, hangin’ out in bars, got stinkin’ drunk and these types of things.” He expected her to let his pregnant girlfriend move in. They finally divorced in 1951. In the fundamentalist south at that time, divorce was a great evil. A woman tore into her at a radio station saying that no one would want “people like her” as an entertainer and she shouldn’t be singing spiritual songs. Martha recalled “It was the awfullest hurt I ever had. . . buckets wouldn’t have held the tears I cried . . . All of a sudden it just seemed like I heard a voice that said ‘What are you crying for? I’m satisfied, and you’re satisfied.’ And the words to that song just almost split me open. I’m in the backseat of Bill Carlisle’s car, looking for a paper to write this down . . . I saw an old blank check laying on the floorboard . . . I dusted the dirt off and turned it lengthwise, and that’s where I wrote ‘Satisfied.’” Capitol finally allowed her to record solo, and in 1951, she made her solo debut with “Satisfied.” Its strong handclap backbeat was one of the foundations of early rock and roll. The backup was performed by Carlisle, newcomer Chet Atkins and Martha’s sister. She had written many other songs and toured with country stars and with Elvis Presley. After performances, she and Elvis sang gospel duets and he later said she had more influence on his stage style than anyone else. Though “Satisfied” was a big hit crossing country charts into the pop charts, her later songs included country gospel standards “I Can’t Stand Up Alone,” “Let the Light Shine on Me,” and Rock-a My Soul.” Her fiery and spirited presence was such that Tonight Show host Steve Allen places a music trade ad proclaiming “Martha Carson is not a girl – She’s an explosion!”
Anyone with the name Carson can’t be that bad!
But she got the name from a man who done her wrong. Despite this, she was fine.