Johnny Cash, American country singer and songwriter died nine years ago today. Cash established an international profile as an ambassador of American roots music. He overcame personal demons to reach superstar status in the late 1960's and continued to carve out his own career musically through the 1980's and 1990's. A prolific songwriter and an astute selector of songs from the pens of others, his music appeals to both rock and country audiences. Cash has been honoured for his commanding position in music history through election to the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992), and as a recepient of the Grammy Legend Award (1990).
He grew up in NE Arkansas during the Depression, where he worked in the cotton fields with his family, absorbing country and gospel music. He served four years in Germany in the US airforce, where he first began to sing and write songs. When he returned from Germany, he successfully auditioned for the Sun Studios in Memphis in 1954, and there he found himself working alongside Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. He had hits in the country music charts, including I walk the line which launched his career nationally and has become his signature tune. A move to Columbia Records in 1968 enabled him to appeal to both country and folk audiences, and, like Woody Guthrie, his song-writing chronicled life at the margins, often drawn from his own experiences.
His most celebrated recordings are those made live in the late 1960's before audiences at Folsom Prison and San Quentin. These albums brought him numerous awards from a country music establisment that had largely ignored him; his marriage in 1968 to June Carter, of the influential Carter Family, further cemented Cash's relationship with the country music mainstream. Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969) also gave rise to his translantic hit A Boy Named Sue. In the same year he recorded with Bob Dylan on his album Nashville Skyline. In the 1970's he made several film appearances. His popularity declined for a time, but his signing to the American record label produced two very good albums, American Recordings and Unchained.
Cash, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, was known for his deep, distinctive bass-baritone voice. He wrote over 1,000 songs and released dozens of albums. He regularly performed dressed all in black. He said he wore black on behalf of the poor and hungry, on behalf of the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, "Up front there ought to be a man in black". He died on September 12th, 2003
The Music Library has many of Johnny Cash's CDs, Scores and books among its collection