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Carlene Carter gets a new Gibson Hummingbird

Carlene Carter was given a surprise present when she appeared at the Grammy Museum Tuesday (April 15)--a brand new Gibson Hummingbird guitar.

Carlene Carter and her new Hummingbird.
Bob Merlis

“They knew about my Hummingbird,” says Carter. “I was on the edge of tears!”

Carter, who as daughter of the late June Carter Cash is heiress to the musical legacy of the seminal Carter Family, is riding high on the acclaim for her new album Carter Girl, which spans the Carter generations from her legendary grandmother Maybelle Carter to her mother June Carter Cash to her own.

She relates that her first “touring guitar” back in the 1990s was a big Gibson J-200 Standard flat-top.

“All the different guitars used through the years by all of the Carters were pretty much Gibsons,” says Carter, “including Grandma’s famous [1928 Gibson L-5 archtop acoustic] guitar, which passed down to Aunt Helen, and the J-200 classic Everly Brothers-style guitar that I started with. I gave my mom the J-200 that I played in the video to [her 1990 country hit] ‘I Fell In Love’ and she played it every night on the road.”

Carter had an endorsement deal with Gibson in the ‘90s, when they supplied her with a black Hummingbird flat-top.

“I hadn’t seen many black Hummingbirds, and played it all the way up ‘til I stopped touring for a long period,” she says. “So I thought it was only fitting I should purchase a new Gibson Hummingbird--not knowing that I was going to be given one!”

Carter does in fact play a Hummingbird at home.

“My ‘go to’ guitar at home is the red Hummingbird that I got from Mom,” she says. “In 1960, her husband at that time [Edwin ‘Rip’ Nix] gave her a brand new Hummingbird,” says Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband, fellow country star Carl Smith.

“I found it in a closet in the late ‘80s and it still had a tag on it and had never been played! It was pristinely beautiful, and I said, ‘Can I use it?’ Mom said, ‘I never liked it because I was mad at Rip when he gave it to me, and Johnny never allowed because it came from someone else.’ So she let me borrow it, but I never gave it back.”

But Carter was reluctant to take it on the road.

“It’s like a museum piece!” she says. “It’s over 50 years old, and I want to keep it nice for my grandchildren. But now I can take this new one out there and put some miles on it.”

Carter’s new Hummingbird has “the classic color that they all usually are,” she says, “sunburst-ish with a ginger color on the back and sides.” She brought it out for the first time yesterday at a session for Yahoo Music!’s Ram Country.

But there’s more to Carter’s love of the Hummingbird guitar.

“The hummingbird is my bird!” she says. “I call my house Hummingbird Hill, and have 20 hummingbird feeders up, We saved two of them that flew into the window and nursed them back to health.”

“I always identified with hummingbirds,” she adds. “My mother thought she could speak to them, and they came to her. And there’s the old song by Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters.”

She sings the opening line of "Hummingbird": “Hummingbird, hummingbird, should be your name….”

And she notes that when she was presented with her new Gibson Hummingbird, she was speechless, “which is very, very rare.”

[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for Carter Girl.]

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