Gaither Carlton, a native of Wilkes County, North Carolina, was an old-time fiddle and banjo player. The youngest of nine children, he was a quiet and shy as a boy, and although many of his relatives were musicians he chose to teach himself to play music. When he grew up, he would go on to play with regional greats including G. B. Grayson, Clarence Ashley, and Al Hopkins.
While Carlton had been playing both banjo and fiddle since the 1920s, he was not recorded until the 1960s, when he was featured on several albums with his son-in-law, Doc Watson. Watson married Carlton’s daughter Rosa Lee. Gaither in time would gain wide recognition for his excellence as a musician, brought to the public eye when he performed and recorded with Doc.
Gaither Carlton’s fiddling was stately and beautiful, with a great deal of gravity, sometimes compared to the fiddling of G. B. Grayson. He also played a frailing banjo style, similar to Clarence Ashley’s. His rendition of the tune “Hicks’ Farewell” on a 1961 recording was heralded by folk music producer Ralph Rinzler as “one of the most powerful pieces of recorded music I know.”
Gaither Carlton passed away in 1972 at his home in Deep Gap, North Carolina.