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Johnny Cash

American musician by name of J.R. Cash

born February 26, 1932, Kingsland, Arkansas, U.S. died September 12, 2003, Nashville, Tennessee

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singer and songwriter whose work broadened the scope of American country and western music.

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Cash was exposed from childhood to the music of the rural South—hymns, folk ballads, and songs of work and lament—but he learned to play guitar and began writing songs during military service in Germany in the early 1950s. After military service he settled in Memphis, Tennessee, to pursue a musical career. Cash began performing with the Tennessee Two (later Tennessee Three), and appearances at county fairs and other local events led to an audition with Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who signed Cash in 1955. Such songs as Cry, Cry, Cry, Hey, Porter, Folsom Prison Blues, and I Walk the Line brought him considerable attention, and by 1957 Cash was the top recording artist in the country and western field. His music was noted for its stripped-down sound and focus on the working poor and social and political issues. Cash, who typically wore black clothes and had a rebellious persona, became known as the “Man in Black.”

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In the 1960s Cash’s popularity began to wane as he battled drug addiction, which would recur throughout his life. At the urging of June Carter of the Carter Family, with whom he had worked since 1961, he eventually sought treatment; the couple married in 1968. By the late 1960s Cash’s career was back on track, and he was soon discovered by a wider audience. The signal event in Cash’s turnaround was the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968), which was recorded live in front of an audience of some 2,000 inmates at California’s Folsom Prison. The performance was regarded as a risky move by record company executives, but it proved to be the perfect opportunity for Cash to reestablish himself as one of country music’s most relevant artists. He used the success of that album and its follow-up, Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969), to focus attention on the living conditions of inmates in American prisons, and he became a vocal champion for penal reform and social justice. Live appearances in New York and London and his television show,The Johnny Cash Show (1969–71), which deviated from the standard variety program by featuring such guests as Ray Charles, Rod McKuen, and Bob Dylan (who had enlisted Cash to appear on his 1969 album, Nashville Skyline), brought to the general public his powerfully simple songs of elemental experiences.

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Although Cash had established himself as a legend in the music world, by the late 1980s he faced dwindling record sales and interest. In 1994, however, he experienced an unexpected resurgence after signing with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, which was best known for its metal and rap acts. Cash’s first release on the label, the acoustic American Recordings, was a critical and popular success, and it won him a new generation of fans. Later records included Unchained (1996), American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), and the posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways (2006). The recipient of numerous awards, he won 13 Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1999, and 9 Country Music Association Awards. Cash was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1996 he received a Kennedy Center Honor. His autobiographies Man in Black and Cash (cowritten with Patrick Carr) appeared in 1975 and 1997, respectively. Walk the Line, a film based on Cash’s life, was released in 2005.

Related Articles

Aspects of this topic are discussed in the following places at Britannica.

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American singer, songwriter, and actress, who was a leading figure in country music, especially noted for her work with the Carter Family and Johnny Cash.

association with

…Family disbanded, and its members subsequently formed various groups. Maybelle (“Mother”) Carter performed with her daughters, as a soloist, and later with her son-in-law, the singer Johnny Cash. In the 1950s the Carter Family re-formed and appeared intermittently, with a changing lineup. The original Carter Family was the first group admitted to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

…including “Matchbox” (based on a blues standard) and “Honey Don’t,” raising Perkins’s profile and providing him with royalty earnings. From 1965 to 1976 he performed with Johnny Cash as part of Cash’s touring ensemble and on his television show. In their first year together the former Sun labelmates became born-again Christians and renounced their addictions. Cash…

Supplemental Information

Sidebar: Sun Records

clip_image005Former radio engineer Sam Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue in 1950. Among his first customers were out-of-town rhythm-and-blues labels Modern (based in Los Angeles) and Chess (based in Chicago), who hired Phillips to find and record local artists on their behalf. Phillips was a genius at making musicians feel at home in the studio, and over the next three years he recorded some classic performances by B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and teenage bandleader Ike Turner. Having delivered a couple of rhythm-and-blues number ones—“Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston (1951) and “Booted” by Rosco Gordon (1952)—Phillips set up his own label, Sun Records, whose first rhythm-and-blues hit was “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas (1953), an answer record to “Hound Dog,” the rhythm-and-blues hit from Houston, Texas, by Willie Mae Thornton.

The following year Phillips recorded his first white singer, Elvis Presley, whose five singles for Sun are among the most notable pop records of the 20th century. Country, gospel, and blues came together and emerged as something entirely different, full of emotion, pride, and an irresistible sense of freedom. Sun became a magnet for talented young artists throughout the South, including Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, all of whom Phillips recorded with patience, humour, and considerable inventiveness. His simple but ingenious use of echo helped to define the new sound of rock and roll.

Charlie Gillett

External Web sites

Articles from Britannica encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.

Johnny Cash – Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up)

(1932-2003). In 1966 his concert in Liverpool, England, broke an attendance record set by a popular local band, the Beatles. American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash sparked a renewal of interest in country music with his simple, yet powerful songs.

This topic is discussed at the following external Web sites.

Academy of Achievement – Johnny Cash

JohnnyCash.Com

"Resource on this popular American singer and songwriter. Includes audio clips, photographs, an archive of magazine articles, a list of quotes by celebrities about Cash, and overview of his professional achievements."

Man In Black.net

Profile of this American country music singer. Includes a biography, a discography, transcripts of interviews, songs’ lyrics, and audio-video clips.

Country Music Hall of Fame – Johnny Cash

Citations

MLA Style:

"Johnny Cash." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Feb. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/97905/Johnny-Cash>.

APA Style:

Johnny Cash. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 26, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/97905/Johnny-Cash

Student Britannica Articles (Ages 11 and up) on "Johnny Cash (American musician)" from the Britannica Online Student Edition

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Children’s Encyclopedia Articles (Ages 8-11) on "Johnny Cash (American musician)" from the Britannica Online Student Edition

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For a definition of "Johnny Cash (American musician)", visit  Merriam-Webster.

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