Carl Perkins was born on April 9, 1932, in Tiptonville, Tennessee, Tne United States. He was born to sharecroppers Buck and Louise Perkins (misspelled on his birth certificate as "Perkings") and was soon out in the fields picking cotton and living in a shack with his parents, older brother Jay, and his younger brother Clayton. He grew up hearing Southern gospel music sung by white friends in church and by African-American field workers when he worked in the cotton fields. Beginning at the age of six, during spring and autumn, school days would be followed by a few hours of work in the fields. In the summer, workdays were 12 to 14 hours, "from can to can't." Perkins and his brother Jay together would earn 50 cents a day. All his family members worked, so there was enough money for beans and potatoes, tobacco for Perkins's father, and occasionally the luxury of a five-cent bag of hard candy.
Friendships with black people were strongly discouraged but that did not stop Perkins having a black best friend by the name of Charlie, even though they had to catch different buses to go to school and sit separately whenever they had the chance to see a show.