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 About Johnny Cash

Part country singer, part folk hero, Johnny Cash was one of the towering figures of American popular music. His effect on other musicians has been greater than his commercial success--and his commercial success has been huge (more than 100 top 40 country hits, plus a dozen pop hits). Johnny Cash has written more than 400 songs--songs about cowboys and Indians, preachers and convicts, railroad engineers and assorted blue-collar workers--and he sings them in a deep, profound voice that sounds less like a typical singer and more like a narrator of the American vision.

J.R. Cash was born February 26, 1932 in rural Kingsland, Arkansas--the name "John" came later and he wasn't "Johnny" until he made his first records. He made those records at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio after spending four years in the Air Force, moving to Memphis and hooking up with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. Cash was one of Sun's few real "country" singers--his background didn't include the influence of both white and black musics that marked the styles of Sun artists like Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich or Jerry Lee Lewis--and he was also one of the label's most successful. Cash had four number-one singles among his two dozen hits for Sun: "I Walk The Line," "There You Go," "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" and "Guess Things Happen That Way." When he went to Columbia Records in 1958, he was already an established star.

Cash spent nearly 30 years on Columbia, during which he recorded such classics as "Ring Of Fire," "Understand Your Man," "Man In Black" and "A Boy Named Sue" (recorded live at San Quentin Prison, the record won Cash a Grammy and the Country Music Association's Single Of The Year award in 1969). In 1961, he met June Carter, the granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, and they began touring together; eight years later, they married. Both Cash and Carter had daughters from previous marriages who would go on to successful singing careers of their own: Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter. Through Rosanne and Carlene's marriages Johnny and June would find themselves in-laws to Rodney Crowell, British rocker Nick Lowe, Howie Epstein of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and folk-rock producer John Leventhal.

In 1969, Cash won CMA awards for Entertainer Of The Year, Male Vocalist Of The Year, Vocal Group Of The Year (with June), Single Of The Year and Album Of The Year for Johnny Cash At San Quentin Prison (his other live prison album, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison won the previous year). He and "A Boy Named Sue" won five Grammys between 1967 and 1970.

Cash hosted his own TV show on ABC from 1969-1971; it was a testament to the singer's expansive nature that he could appeal to enough segments of a splintered American population to draw a network-sized crowd. Later, Cash would be elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1980, making him the youngest living person ever inducted. When he was elected to the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992, he became the first person inducted into both halls. He was also given the Grammy's Living Legends Award in 1990.

After leaving Columbia in the late '80s, Cash recorded for Mercury and American Recordings. Country radio no longer plays his music, but he has been embraced by rock and alternative-country crowds. The phenomenon happens to him about every 10 years or so (he hung with Bob Dylan in the '60s and '70s, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the '80s, and Rick Rubin, U2 and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers more recently), and Cash handled it, as he did most things, with the equanimity that befits an icon.

Cash died on September 12, 2003 due to complications from diabetes, which resulted in respiratory failure, at Nashville's Baptist Hospital. The legendary "Man in Black" was 71 years old.
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