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Jett to board: "I am first, a member of the Carter Family"

by Ron Short (Special to the Herald Courier)
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let it go, let it go, just move on down the road. Let it go, let it go, don’t carry that heavy load. Let it go, let it go, let it go!

These days Dale Jett carries the words to this song in the pocket of his work shirt to remind him "forgiveness is the best revenge."

Jett is A.P and Sara Carter’s grandson and Janette Carter’s son. If you’ve ever been to the Carter Family Fold, I’m sure you’ve seen him. He was the man setting up mics, testing sound, managing the stage, repairing a stopped up commode, pulling people out of the ditch-line and, oh yes, he was the man playing left-hand guitar and singing Carter Family songs with his beloved mother. I’m sure you have seen him! He has been doing this for the past 30 years.

FOR A MAN who is deeply humble and craves no attention, he has lived his life on a very public stage. He is, after all, a member of the famous Carter Family. In fact, he is uncomfortable being introduced as A.P. and Sara’s grandson, not because he is ashamed, but because he is humbled and does not want to be treated specially just because of that birthright. He feels his musical legacy is a gift; one that he wants to be deserving of, on his own.

When he had to supervise a construction project for a year in Savannah, Ga., he didn’t even tell his supervisor who he was when he asked for time off to take his mother, shortly before her death, to Washington, D.C., to receive the Smithsonian National Heritage Award.

And, he did not tell them when he needed time to be with her in her last days, when she was sick, and when he needed to come home for her funeral. He asked for time off like any other working man, because he did not feel it was fair to receive better treatment than those who worked with him. They also had mothers whom they loved and who needed their help and care.

So each week, he drove nine hours from Savannah, greeted and welcomed the audience at the Carter Fold with a few Carter Family songs, which they expected to hear from a member of the Carter Family, visited his family and mother and then drove back to Georgia.

I REMEMBER one night when Janette Carter told a shocked crowd, " I never did like that ‘Wildwood Flower.’ It’s hard to sing and it don’t make a lick of sense!"

Janette could be painfully blunt, but no one ever doubted her honesty or her integrity. Jett has done everything he can to retain that honesty and integrity in the continuing operation of the Carter Fold. He has had to work through his grief in public after losing his mother, while he has tried to remain true to her musical legacy and her promise of preserving her father’s legacy

On Dec. 15, almost exactly two years after Janette Carter’s death, the Carter Family Memorial Music Center Inc. board voted to remove Jett. This action, for what they claim was his "contentious" behavior, will leave him with no voice in the continued management and governing of the Carter Family Fold.

ALTHOUGH THERE has been a flurry of statements by the board to justify its actions to a shocked community, Jett has chosen not to enter into a public "spitting contest" or attempt to refute every statement, no matter how outrageous it may be.

Board president Howard Klein was quoted in a recent newspaper article as saying that, "the board was moving in one direction and Dale was moving in another." Looked at from a different viewpoint, Jett is moving in the same direction that his mother had moved in for the past 30 years and the board is moving in another.

At the meeting when Jett was removed, another member wondered aloud what Janette might think of their actions. The board president reputedly answered, "Janette is gone."

Though Jett has chosen not to make a public statement, he has allowed me to quote from his speech to the board:

"THE ‘BOARD majority’ is apparently accusing me of creating a faction on the board. You can easily blame me and vote me off, but your problems will still exist. I didn’t create them; I just pointed some of them out. It is ultimately your choice in how you deal with them.

"In your ‘non-negotiable offer’ [calling for his resignation] you wanted me to agree to refrain from taking any action that would harm the Fold or its board members. I am first, a member of the Carter Family. The Carter Fold does not supersede the heritage of my family, nor does it have the privilege of being the sole representative of my family. I would do less to honor my mother and my family heritage by covering up wrongdoing or using the Fold to shield myself, rather than acting with honesty and integrity. That is non-negotiable."

Ron Short lives in Big Stone Gap. He is a musician, singer, songwriter and playwright and has worked with Roadside Theater for 30 years.

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January 20, 2008