Johnny Cashhad all the qualities of a country legend: a rich life, a keen instinct for storytelling and an unflinching eye on the world around him. Cash's humble beginnings made him an authentic storyteller whose plainspoken narrative songs spoke to the American everyman. He wrote songs prolifically but never carelessly; each one captured a deeper truth and resonated uncannily with the working man.
- February 26, 1932: Born in Kingsland, Arkansas
- One of seven children born to Ray and Carrie Rivers Cash
- The son of poor Southern Baptist sharecroppers
- Moved with his family at the age of 3 to Dyess, Arkansas, so that his father could take advantage of the New Deal farming programs instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt.
There, the Cash clan lived in a five-room house and farmed 20 acres of cotton and other seasonal crops.
Cash spent much of the next 15 years out in the fields, working alongside his parents and siblings to help pay off their debts.
It wasn't an easy life, and music was one of the ways the Cash family found escape from some of the hardships. Songs surrounded the young Cash, be it his mother's folk and hymn ballads, or the working music people sang out in the fields.
- From an early age Cash, who began writing songs at age 12, showed a love for the music that enveloped his life. Sensing her boy's gift for song, Carrie scraped together enough money so that he could take singing lessons. However, after just three lessons his teacher, enthralled with Cash's already unique singing style, told him to stop taking lessons and to never deviate from his natural voice.
- Religion, too, had a strong impact on Cash's childhood. His mother was a devout member of the Pentecostal Church of God, and his older brother Jack seemed committed to joining the priesthood until his tragic death in 1944 in an electric-saw accident. The experiences of his early farming life and religion became recurring themes in Cash's career.
- 1950: Cash graduated high school and left Dyess to seek employment, venturing to Pontiac, Michigan, for a brief stint at an auto body plant. That summer he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as "John R. Cash" - military regulations required a full first name and he was sent for training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he met future wife Vivian Liberto.
- For the bulk of his four years in the Air Force, Cash was stationed in Landsberg, West Germany, where he worked as a radio intercept officer, eavesdropping on Soviet radio traffic. With a few of his Air Force buddies, he formed the Landsberg Barbarians, giving Cash a chance to play live shows, teach himself more of the guitar and take a shot at songwriting.
- July 1954: After his discharge, Cash married Vivian and settled with her in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked, as best he could, as an appliance salesman.
- Pursuing music on the side, Cash teamed up with a couple of mechanics, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, who worked with Cash's older brother Roy. The young musicians soon formed a tight bond, with the crew and their wives often heading over to one of their houses to play music, much of it gospel.
In July 1954, another Memphis musician, Elvis Presley, cut his first record, sparking a wave of Elvis-mania as well as an interest in the local producer, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who had issued the record.
- Later that year Cash, Grant and Perkins made an unannounced visit to Sun Records to ask Sam Phillips for an audition. The Sun Records owner gave in and Cash and the boys soon returned to show off their skills. Phillips liked their sound but not their gospel-driven song choices, which he felt would have a limited market, and asked them to return with an original song.
The trio did just that, beginning work on the Cash-written "Hey Porter," shortly that first Sun session. Phillips liked that song, as well as the group's follow-up effort, "Cry, Cry, Cry," and signed the newly branded Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.
- 1956:True fame arrives when Cash wrote and released "I Walk The Line," which catapulted to No. 1 on the country music charts and sold 2 million copies.
- 1960s: Relocates his family to California and left Sun for Columbia Records, Cash was a musical superstar.
- On the road for 300 nights a year with the group now known as the Tennessee Three, he was often accompanied by June Carter, who co-wrote what became one of the Man in Black's signature songs, "Ring of Fire" (1963).
- 1966: Vivian files for divorce. The schedule and the pressures that faced him took a toll on his personal life. Drugs and alcohol were frequent tour companions while Vivian, left home to take care of their family, which now included daughters Rosanne (b. 1955), Kathy (b. 1956), Cindy (b. 1959) and Tara (b. 1961) grew increasingly frustrated with her husband's absence.
"I took all the drugs there are to take, and I drank," Cash recalled. "Everybody said that Johnny Cash was through 'cause I was walkin' around town 150 pounds. I looked like walking death."
- 1968: His old touring companion, June Carter, helped him refocus on his Christian faith and get the drug addiction treatment he needed.
Cash and Carter got married on March 1, 1968.
- 1970 Birth of their first and only child, John Carter Cash.
- 1975: Published a best-selling autobiography, Man in Black.
- 1980: The youngest living person to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- 1992: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 1997: Published his second memoir, Cash: The Autobiography.
- Late 1990s:Health becomes more of an issue.
- 2003: June Carter died in May
- 2003: Just a week before his death on September 12, 2003, from complications associated with diabetes, Cash wrapped up his final track for studio album American V: A Hundred Highways.
- 2005: the story of his life and career through the late 1960s was made into a feature film, Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as Carter.
- 2010: selected by Rolling Stone magazine as the 31st greatest artist of all time.
As the 1970s progressed, Cash's hit records grew more infrequent. By the early 1980s his daughter Rosanne Cash was having more success as a recording artist than he was.
But with his old friends Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, Cash had a #1 hit with the title cut of the Highwayman album in 1985.
The foursome did a series of special limited concert tours and recorded two more albums: Highwayman 2 (1990), and Highwayman: The Road Goes on Forever (1995).
- Johnny Cash was known for:
- His deep, calm bass-baritone voice
- the distinctive train-like chugging guitar rhythms
- A rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor
- Free prison concerts
- A trademark all-black stage wardrobe which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black"
- Much of Cash's music contained themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career
- He traditionally began his concerts by simply introducing himself, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash", followed by "Folsom Prison Blues"
His other signature songs include:
- I Walk the Line
- Ring of Fire
- Get Rhythm
- Man in Black
- One Piece at a Time
- A Boy Named Sue
- Hey, Porter
- Orange Blossom Special
- Rock Island Line
- Cash is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide.
- His genre-spanning music embraced country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel sounds. This crossover appeal earned him the rare honor of being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.
- His music career was dramatized in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line.
Nashville, Tennessee 37201