When Johnny Cash boarded the train that would take him beyond this life, he must have had a great deal of luggage.
His unique gift earned him 11 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of the Arts, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and led to his membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
His heart was as legendary as his struggles. Over his lifetime, Johnny Cash supported mental health associations, a home for autistic children, refuges for battered women, countless Christian organizations, humane societies, and famously performed in numerous American prisons.
Then, of course, there was the sheer volume of his catalogue. Cash’s productive career spans five decades and 96 albums. His very first record contained “I Walk the Line,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” and “Folsom Prison Blues”—three of country music’s most recognizable classics. He was a dedicated curator of folk and gospel songs and a prolific writer and poet, eventually penning a best-selling novel, Man in White,
about the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.
As Mr. Cash would tell us, nothing he accomplished could ever compare to his 35-year marriage to the incomparable June Carter-Cash. June, who penned the song “Ring of Fire” (and many others), was a phenomenal singer and comedienne whose career was as long and impressive as her husband’s.
Johnny’s music was born out of the critical mass that was the cross-section of early American folk, country, blues, gospel, and Rock & Roll. It is essential to note the multitude of black performers whose work was foundational to the creation of American music and whose names were eclipsed by the commercial successes of the white performers who benefited from the influence of these great artists: Rufus ‘Tee Tot’ Payne, Gus Cannon, and Arnold Schultz, to name a few.
Likewise, it is necessary to view Johnny’s work through the lens of the era from which it came. Try as he did to give voice to the voiceless, there are thoughts and narratives in some of Cash’s work that may cause us to cringe when taken in the modern context. Perhaps the lyrics that have aged poorly highlight more about our progress than they do about Johnny. Some of the songs that speak of violence and misogyny may turn our ears precisely because we have not progressed as much as we might have hoped. We have decided not to edit material that may cause distress because we feel it is necessary to allow the audience to experience the material and analyze it themselves. We hope this will enable a more open dialogue about values and character.
It is with great pleasure and pride that we gather to pay tribute to the man, the music, the love, the pain, the imperfection, and the redemption. In his own words, this is the story of how his life was shaped by tragedy, family, struggle, and success.
We invite you to clap and holler, laugh and cry, and above all, sing along as we journey through the memories and ghosts in the life of “The Man In Black” on his long journey from his childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas, to his final train ride into the great beyond.
You tell me that I must perish
Like the flowers that I cherish
Nothing remaining of my name
Nothing remembered of my fame
But the trees that I planted
Still are young
The songs I sang
Will still be sung
– Johnny Cash, Summer of 2003
Header Picture (Left to Right): Katie Barton, Scott Moreau, Eric Scott Anthony, Ben Hope, and Elizabeth Nestlerode. Photo by John Jones.