by Erika Cox
Johnny Cash is one of the most influential artists in country and rock
and roll music. Despite all of his personal tragedies, Johnny Cash
remained a survivor and his ability to overcome his personal problems
made him only more of an influential figure and a highly respected
His distinctive deep voice, subdue demeanor, and all black attire earned
him the nickname, The Man in Black. Johnny Cash was born John Ray Cash
on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas. His family moved to Dyess,
Arkansas when Cash was three years old. His family was very poor and
Cash started working in the cotton fields at the age of five.
As he got older, Cash would listen to country, gospel and blues music on
the radio after working in the fields. At twelve years old, he started
writing songs and playing the guitar, combining the sounds of both
country and gospel styles. In 1944, Cash would suffer his first tragedy
when his older brother, Jack, was killed in a farming accident.
His brother was pulled into a whirling table saw and almost cut in half;
some say it may not have been an accident but a murder. Whatever the
case, Cash felt a horrible sense of guilt because he was not present
when the accident happened and he kept that guilt all of his life.
Cash mentioned that his brother said on his deathbed that he saw angels
and a vision of Heaven before he died. Sixty years later, Cash would
speak of looking forward to seeing his brother again in Heaven.
After Cash was discharged from the Air Force he started pursuing his
musical career by auditioning for a radio announcer. He eventually ran
into Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, two other aspiring musicians,
and the three approached Sun Records to audition for the label in 1955.
Sun signed the trio, which named themselves the Tennessee Two, and their
first single “Cry, Cry, Cry” was a moderate success on the country
After their second single “Folsom Prison Blues” became a hit, the group
had their first major hit on the pop and country charts with “I Walk the
Line”. The group performed at various locations and eventually made it
all the way to the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. The group recorded two more
hit songs that made it to the pop and country charts during this time as
Cash became the first artist with Sun Records to release a full-length
album and was the label’s most successful artist at the time. However,
he felt restrained and ignored by the label and decided to sign with
Columbia Records in 1958. Feeling the strain of constant touring, the
breakup of his first marriage and the death of a friend, Johnny Horton,
Cash began taking amphetamines, tranquilizers and drinking heavily to
Although he became addicted to all of these substances, he somehow
continued to record hit songs. In 1964, Cash visited the Greenwich
Village folk scene and appeared with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk
Festival but despite his success, Cash continued to struggle with his
addictions and was arrested for drug possession and later found near
death in a small town.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Cash decided to turn his life around
and rediscover his Christian faith with the help of his second wife,
June Carter. He continued to work with other artists, like Bob Dylan,
record, and promote different causes close to his heart.
In the mid-1970’s, his career declined somewhat but he did make various
appearances on TV shows. In the 1980’s he continued to appear in a
number of shows and films, and in 1985 joined Waylon Jennings, Willie
Nelson and Kris Kristofferson touring and recording as part of the group
The Highwaymen, which resulted in two successful albums.
After suffering a serious stomach injury, Cash turned back to drugs to
ease the pain, but was able to overcome the addiction again while at the
Betty Ford clinic. He again had another near death experience while
having heart surgery, almost having the same vision his brother Jack had
years ago. In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with Shy-Drager syndrome, which
is associated with diabetes, he cut back on his touring but received a
number of recognitions and awards for his accomplishments.
On September 12, 2003, four months after his wife June Carter died from
heart surgery complications, Cash died due to complications associated
with diabetes. Cash had a significant impact in rock and country music
throughout the 1960’s, almost single handedly making country and western
music popular with the mainstream pop audience.
He was one of the first
rockabilly stars of the 1950’s and throughout the remainder of his
career he was an influential and successful artist.
He is a true legend that will always be remembered and loved. In 1980,
Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame’s youngest living inductee at
age 48. He also received numerous awards and recognitions, including
being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
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