Rita Forrester of the Carter Family Fold Receives Outstanding Virginian Award


CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – The Outstanding Virginian Committee and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at UVA have announced that Rita Forrester is the 2022 recipient of the Outstanding Virginian Award. Forrester was honored at the Virginia State Capitol on Wednesday, April 27.

“We’re proud to have such a wonderful member of the Commonwealth be honored as this year’s Outstanding Virginian,” said Chair of the Outstanding Virginian Committee John B. Adams, Jr. “Rita Forrester and her family have provided generations of Virginians with bluegrass music through their enduring family legacy.” Forrester is the executive director of the Carter Family Fold, an 880-seat amphitheater in Scott County, where visitors from around the world come to hear music inspired by the Carter family.

As the granddaughter of the legendary AP and Sara Carter, Forrester ensures the cultural legacy of the “First Family of Country Music” lives on and inspires future generations through weekly performances of old time and bluegrass music. Forrester emcees the shows, books the performers, and supervises staff and volunteers of the Fold as they host over 50,000 visitors a year. The Carter Family Fold stage has been graced by many country music legends including Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, and Marty Stuart. 

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia established the Outstanding Virginian Award to honor recipients whose distinguished contributions, outstanding achievements, and dedicated leadership serve as an inspiration to all civic-minded citizens. The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the General Assembly-appointed Outstanding Virginian Committee co-host the annual Outstanding Virginian Award Ceremony to honor the year’s recipient(s). Proceeds realized from the event support the Outstanding Virginian Bicentennial Scholarship at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. 

For more information about the Outstanding Virginian Bicentennial Scholarship, contact Eliza Broaddus (ebroaddus@virginia.edu), assistant director of development at the Batten School.  

Bio Rita Janette Forrester Rita was born in Southwestern Virginia near the ancestral home of the Carter family where the Carters have lived since the American Revolution. She lives in Scott County in Hiltons, Virginia near the settlement of Maces Springs. Rita is the granddaughter of the legendary AP and Sara Carter and the niece of Maybelle Carter, and the cousin of June Carter Cash.

A.P., Sara and Maybelle are recognized by all as the First Family of Country Music accurately depicted in the Ken Burns documentary “County Music”. They were officially given that moniker when the family was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

AP Carter combed the hills in the vicinity of his home in Scott County gathering music directly from his mountain neighbors. This wonderful music would have been lost forever without AP’s efforts in preserving this cultural treasure of Appalachia and Virginia. Robert Duvall, in a PBS documentary on the Carter family, said that “AP saved the most significant catalogue of music in America”.

Many of these songs were transported to America from Scotland, Ireland and England in the 18th century and evolved into the fabric of American culture. AP also was a prolific composer. Some of the favorites connected to the Carter Family include: Keep on the Sunny Side of Life, Can the Circle be Unbroken, Wabash Cannonball, Wildwood Flower.

In testament to the universality of the music, Mick Jagger sang “Can The Circle Be Unbroken” at his mother’s funeral at St. Andrews church in London.

In 1927 on a trip to Bristol, Virginia to meet a record producer from New York, the musical careers of the trio AP, Sara and Maybelle took off and they became America’s face of country music recording on record labels RCA Victor, ARC Group, Columbia etc. By the end of 1930, they had sold over 300,000 records. 

The key to keeping this Carter Family and Virginia cultural legacy enduring is Rita Forrester who is director of the Carter Family Fold in Scott County. Rita’s mother, Janette , AP’s And Sara’s daughter, promised AP on his death bed that she would keep this genuine county/folk/gospel music alive for future generations.  Janette, Rita and the family accomplished this by establishing the Carter Family Fold which entails an 880 seat amphitheater where over 50,000 visitors a year come to hear music inspired by the Carter family. Johnny and June Carter Cash often performed there in addition to other country greats such as Tom T. Hall, Marty Stuart, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Grandpa Jones.

Visitors are from all over the US and oftentimes several foreign countries. The Carter Family Fold, in addition to the amphitheater, also includes the old Carter home place moved down from Maces Springs and the country store where AP performed.

In keeping with AP’s wishes, all performances at the Fold are “morally upright” and the disabled come in free of charge. Rita books the performers, MC’s the shows and supervises and works with a staff of mostly volunteers. Although managing the Fold is probably a full-time job, Rita worked for many years for East Tennessee State University in conjunction with the Quillen School of Medicine. With Rita’s efforts, the circle is clearly unbroken. AP, Sara and Maybelle must be smiling down from above.

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