While the fiddle was the most important instrument in early America, and very often the only instrument in rural communities, a lack of instruments did not deter the hard working folks that cleared a few acres of rough mountain terrain to make a home in the wilderness from including music in their daily lives.
Just as sailors sung familiar songs to coordinate many hands at an arduous task, song made the chores of the mountain homestead a little easier to accomplish. Long before records or radio, families sang together for both entertainment and to make difficult or repetitive tasks more enjoyable. Music also strengthened the bond between family and community. Families would gather in the evening to join together in song after the days chores were done. Saturday night barn dances provided a sense of community as well as entertainment and every community had singers even if no fiddler was available. On Sunday morning all would come together and raise their voices in song in church, further strengthening the bonds of community, and once again joining together in harmony.
Of all the groups that join in harmony, the family vocal groups have a special sound difficult for unrelated singers to duplicate. Families, especially siblings, have perfected their close, tight harmonies over years of intimacy. It was this special, close harmony of siblings that ushered in the popularity of the brother duets in the 1930s.
The most influential of early country groups was without a doubt the Carter Family. The trio of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle set the standard for all to follow. The Carters had been singing at church and at social gatherings in southwest Virginia for years before that infamous recording session in Bristol in 1927 brought them to national attention.
In the 1930s, brother groups such as the Dixon Brothers, Monroe Brothers, Delmore Brothers, and the Blue Sky Boys (Bill and Earl Bolick) brought the familiar sound of close family harmony to the radio. The influence of these brother groups was far reaching. The most famous rock ‘n’ roll brother duo, The Everly Brothers credit the music of the Blue Sky Boys as a major influence. After WWII, the Delmore Brothers would further blend the blues into their music and lead the way for rockabilly with their rollicking boogie woogie. The Monroe Brothers blended blues, jazz, and pop with the traditional old-time music of the Appalachians to develop the unique style that would become bluegrass.
There is nothing quite like the wonderful sound of voices in close harmony.