Few country singers have mastered such a range of styles, from old-time string band to duet to country gospel to novelty, as Martha Carson, the dynamic redhead from Neon, Kentucky, whose music has won her fans from creaking country schoolhouses to posh Las Vegas lounges. Martha spent much of her career fighting to carve out a solo career in the male-dominated world of country music. Born as Irene Amburgey (she pronounces the name with the accent on the Am) on March 19, 1921, Martha grew up traveling rural Kentucky with her family’s gospel quartet and playing string band music with her two sisters, Opal and Bertha. Later the sisters would record together, as Mattie, Minnie, and Marthie, for King, and as the Amber Sisters for Capitol. The sisters won their initial fame on the old Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and then moved to WSB in Atlanta. There Martha teamed up with James Roberts, taught him some of the old shape-note gospel songs she had known as a child, and watched as the pair gained a following throughout the South and a contract with Capitol Records.
But in 1950, while working at WNOX in Knoxville, James and Martha split up—both personally and professionally. Martha wanted to pursue a solo career, but at once ran into problems. “I was under contract with Capitol from the duet days for seven more years,” she recalls. “And about every week, I’d get a call from Dee, or a letter from Capitol, or he’d show up, with someone new for me to team up with. Once he wanted me to team with Archie Campbell; or this man, or that one. But I said, ‘Nope, I’m not going to sing another duet with another man.’”
About this time Martha wrote “Satisfied.” Stung by some caustic criticism aimed at her by a WNOX listener upset over her divorce from James, Martha left for a tour into the Great Smoky Mountains crying and upset. “I cried more than halfway up the mountains,” she recalls. “One of the reasons for all the suffering I had gone through was that I