About The Artist
Rosa Lee Carson, the daughter of the ultimate country music pioneer Fiddlin' John Carson, ranks among the first women to make a mark in country music history although she for the most part supported her father's large body of work. She played rhythm guitar behind his fiddle and acted in many of their recorded comedy skits, both on disc and on stage. Rosa also managed to record a few numbers on her own.
Born in Atlanta, Rosa was the oldest of Carson's three younger children who never had to work in a textile mill. Some sources indicate her birth date as October 10, 1909. Research of information in Ancestry.com seems to show her actual birth date as July 30, 1911. A search of census records was not successful for 1910 or 1920 to show one way or another.
She was fourteen when John began his career on OKeh Records and often traveled with him. As far as is known, she made her first solo recordings and first recorded with John in June 1925. Thereafter, she recorded frequently with him through 1934. She seems not to have used the nickname "Moonshine Kate" until 1928.
The Moonshine Kate of skit and recordings was a brassy, in-your-face girl, who usually helped her father in outwitting revenuers and law officers attempting to catch him in the act of making and/or selling contraband moonshine. Off stage and microphone, the real Rosa Lee Carson was a shy, quiet teenager and young adult who sang in a Baptist church choir.
An article promoting an appearance of Fiddlin' John Carson in Roanoke, Alabama gave readers some idea of the entertainment they would see and hear. John was promoted as the guy one heard over the radio or enjoyed playing his records at your home. Moonshine Kate was with him as well; she came '...from the hills where they make it." Bud Davis provided some comedy aspects as a blackface comedian from the old minstrel show days. George Bartlett was part of the group, doing impersonations of Ted Lewis; he also played the clarinet and saxophone — at the same time!
In addition to the recordings listed below, Kate's dramatic work is best illustrated on recordings of her father bearing such titles as "Moonshine Kate," "John Makes Good Liquor," and "You Can't Get Milk from a Cow Named Ben." Her own recordings are a mixture of serious ballads and more playful numbers; some were credited to "Moonshine Kate & Her Pals.
While most of her travels with Fiddlin" John took place in Georgia and adjacent states, she is known to have toured with him as far as Quebec, Havana, and Mexico.
An article promoting the appearance of Fiddlin' John and Moonshine Kate in November 1930 indicated that the next stop for them would be to visit Hollywood to appear in a movie. Reportedly they had contracted with a studio to appear in a movie titled "The Mountain Stillers." It was said to be "...a genuine thriller." However, it appears this movie never came to be.
John and Moonshine Kate would continue to appear at Fiddle contests, but not always as contestants. One such instance was for an event at the Miami Biltmore pool on January 31, 1934. They were listed as guest artists. His daughter, Moonshine Kate, "...whose hill-billy songs have brought her fame at the age of 22 will be another guest artist."
From the mid-thirties, she worked less with John and more with the Atlanta City Department of Parks and Recreation. Mostly she worked with them in playing games and encouraging healthy eating habits. She is, however, known to have coached children's football teams and allegedly taught children to swim even though she herself could not swim.
She and her father Fiddlin' John also gained some fame as part of Georgia political history. They often accompanied Euguene Talmadge on the campaign trail. There were some writers / historians who thought they played a role in Mr. Talmadge getting elected.
Celestine Sibley included a letter from a reader that spoke to their political influence.
Then there was one from a gentleman in Cartersville suggesting that Fiddlin' John Carson and a character known as Mooshine Kate should be memorialized in stone on the lawn of the State Capitol for their contributions to thecareer of the late Gene Talmadge.
A 1949 article that wrote of Fiddlin' John serenading the Georgia Senate on his 81st birthday wrote that he once had his own road show. In 1933, he toured the nation with his daughter, Moonshine Kate.
She married Wayne Johnson, a friend of her brothers, and during part of World War II lived in Maine for a time. After the War, she went to back to her old job in Atlanta. She died at 83, survived by her husband and one brother.
Credits & Sources
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