Female Country Pioneer Bertha Garcia Passes

Old-time fiddler and singer Bertha Woodruff Garcia died on Monday, Feb. 20, in Nashville at age 93.

Born Bertha Amburgey in Neon, Kentucky in 1918, she formed a musical trio with her sisters, guitarist Irene (1921-2004) and banjo/mandolin player Opal (1925-1995). Billed as The Sunshine Sisters, they began working on radio in Lexington, KY on WLAP in 1938. In 1940, they became members of Lily May Ledford’s Coon Creek Girls at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

Moving to WSB in Atlanta, they were dubbed “Mattie, Marthie and Minnie” by the station. Opal was Mattie. Irene was Marthie. Bertha was Minnie. They subsequently became known as The Hoot Owl Holler Girls in Atlanta.

As Mattie, Marthie and Minnie they were signed by King Records in 1951-52. They recorded for Capitol Records in 1952-53 as The Amber Sisters. Bertha/Minnie wrote their biggest hit for Capitol, “You Can’t Live With ‘Em and You Can’t Live Without ‘Em.”

All three sisters formed duo acts with their husbands. Irene/Marthie became half of James & Martha Carson. She subsequently became a solo gospel star. Opal/Mattie married Salty Holmes and performed on the Opry as Salty Holmes & Mattie O’Neil. She later became a solo recording artist and highly successful Nashville songwriter as “Jean Chapel.” Bertha/Minnie married the late Charles “Ducky” Woodruff and they, too, became a country duo.

Bertha retired from music to raise her three children and have a 30-year career with the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

She is survived by her second husband, Robert Garcia, by son Charles Michael Woodruff and daughters Shirley Ferry and Sandra Smith, by five stepchildren and by a number of grandchildren, step grandchildren and great grandchildren. She is also survived by brother Glenn Amburgey of Cincinnati. Surviving brother Lloyd Amburgey is the Nashville country entertainer Don Chapel and her niece is singer Donna Chapel.

Her funeral is this evening, 4-7 p.m., at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home.

 

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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