Saying Goodbye To An American Music Icon
The Man in Black: Johnny Cash
Cash had been in and out of the hospital repeatedly preceding his death. In May of this year, he also lost his wife, friend, and music partner to whom he had been married for 35 years, June Carter Cash.
Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, as John R. Cash, he grew up in Dyess, a nearby farming community. Later as a young man he began working industrial type jobs in the South and also Detroit.
During the time he was stationed in Germany [early 50's], working as a radio interceptor for the United States Air Force, he began to teach himself how to play the guitar.
After his military tour ended, he took residence in Memphis. He sold appliances door-to-door, and there he also married Vivian, his first wife. While in Memphis, Cash also formed his first band with guitarist, Luther Perkins, and bassist, Marshall Grant, both auto mechanics.
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In 1955, John R. Cash was re-christened against his will to Johnny Cash by Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips. John was seeking a Gospel recording contract from Phillips, however Phillips wanted Pop material from Cash.
The first single released was "Cry! Cry! Cry!/Hey Porter" in 1955, featuring Cash on vocals. He was backed by Perkins and Grant, the Tennessee Two. While on Sun Records, Cash also cut four No. 1 Country singles, including "I Walk The Line."
Clashes over money, and musical direction with Phillips and Sun Records saw Johnny signing with Columbia Records in 1958. Almost immediately delivering a No. 1 on the Country charts in 1959 was "Don't Take Your Guns To Town." Other chart- toppers to follow were "Ring Of Fire" in 1963 and "Understand Your Man" in 1964.
Johnny Cash cut some concept albums as well. One such album devoted to religious material was "Hymns" in 1959, followed by "Ride This Train" in 1960. Other concept albums ensued in 1964, "Bitter Tears", about Native American struggles, and Western songs: "Ballads Of The True West" in 1965.
Fame and fortune began to take a personal toll on Cash, becoming addicted to amphetamines and barbituates. His shows became turbulent, demonstrated by his kicking out the footlights at the Grand Ole Opry during one performance. In 1965 drug agents busted him returning from Mexico with hundreds of pills in his guitar case. Vivian filed for divorce one year later.
June Carter was a member of his singing troupe since the early 60s, and it was June who helped Cash kick his habit after moving to Nashville. They had a duet, "Jackson", that became a No. 2 Country hit in 1967, and in 1968 this duo married. Also noteworthy for the year 1968 was Cash hitting the peak of his recording career.
It was the concert set in a California penitentiary, that crossed this Country artist over to the Pop charts, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" made way for the hit remake of the Sun single, "Folsom Prison Blues.". A similarly styled album in 1969, "Johnny Cash at San Quentin," put the song "A Boy Named Sue" once more on both the Country and Pop charts.
1970 saw Cash settled into his well-known role as the black-clad Country music icon. He has recorded more than 1500 songs found on about 500 albums, counting only American and European releases, with 45 albums remaining in print today.
Cash has had chart success throughout his career as a solo artist, part of a duet, leader of a trio, and as a member of the Highwayman quartet. He remains the youngest person to be chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was also the first to be selected for the Country and Rock Music Hall of Fame, where he remained such until joined by Elvis in 1998.
Cash has won 11 Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. He was the host of the Johnny Cash Show on ABC from 1969-1971 primetime TV. He sold 1.5 million copies of his 1975 autobiography, "Man In Black." He has produced and co-scripted a movie about the life of Jesus, "Gospel Road," which was filmed in Israel. He also starred in four theatrical films, and was a featured star in seven TV movies.
Johnny Cash toured extensively for 38 years, including U.S. honky-tonks, state fairs, and showrooms. Johnny has also appeared outside the U.S. to hundreds of thousands of fans in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe, also touring Vietnam and throughout the U. S. State Department. He has also been presented in Eastern European nations such as Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
Cash has been a major model and influence to many musicians from all ages and genres of music. A tribute to the man for his writing is so noted by this documented fact: over a hundred acts have recorded Cash's song, "I Walk The Line." Further evidence is demonstrated on U2's album "Zooropa," were he was a featured guest soloist.
President George W. Bush said in tribute, "Johnny Cash was a music legend and American icon whose career spanned decades and genres. His resonant voice and human compassion reached the hearts and souls of generations, and he will be missed."
He is survived by daughters Rosanne, Tara, Cindy and Kathy, and one son, John Carter Cash.
In closing, the Cash family issued this statement: "The family of Johnny Cash in this sad hour is greatly comforted by the outpouring of love and respect for his remarkable life. We take solace in the knowledge that he is again reunited with his dearest companion, June. Our lives, and indeed the entire planet, will forever feel the emptiness of his loss, but his music and the greatness of his spirit will endure."
Johnny Cash was laid to rest, after a private service attended by family, friends, and fellow musicians/artists, on Tuesday, September 16, 2003. He is once more, by his beloved June's side, as he was burried next to her site in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Please visit www.johnnycash.com to learn more about the Man in Black and his extraordinary career.