The Life, Achievements and Legacy of 20th Century Singer Johnny Cash

Many prominent figures existed in the 20th-century. From the world of politics to sports, journalism, and music, many people from these fields left an indelible mark in the sands of time. Johnny Cash is one of those whose name cannot be left out when talking about those that stirred the world of music in the 20th century.

The American singer and songwriter has an astonishing catalog of music. He wowed the world with his baritone voice which allowed him to produce music that spanned different genres – country, gospel, rockabilly, blues, folk, and many more. Cash further distinguished himself in every way possible. Known for always sporting a black attire while on stage, his songs mostly revolved around dark themes, and a combination of those factors earned him the nickname, The Man in Black. Some of his well-known songs include “I Walk the Line”, “Man in Black”, “Hey, Porter”, and “Rock Island Line”.

Johnny Cash Started Writing Songs When He Was 12

Johnny Cash was born on the 26th of February 1932 into the family of Carrie Cloveree and Ray Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas. He is of Engish and Scottish origins and was blessed with the love of six siblings with whom he grew up in a poor farming community.

As a young boy, Johnny was inspired by gospel and Irish music and so he began writing songs at the age of 12. In 1950, he joined the United States Airforce and with a few of his buddies, he formed the Landsberg Barbarians, a band that gave him a chance to play live shows.

Following his discharge from the Air force, Johnny Cash got married to Vivian Liberto and lived with her in Tennessee where he worked as an appliance salesman while also pursuing his musical career.

The Songs That Made Him a Mainstream Artist

In a bid to make something out of his musical aspirations, Johnny Cash formed a group with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant in 1954. The trio soon formed a tight bond as they made gospel music.

With his old $5 guitar, Johnny was seen as the frontman of the group. In the hope of landing a recording contract, he visited Sun Records owner Sam Philips to sing for him. Sam was said to have been impressed but since he was no longer making gospel songs, he asked Johnny to go home and make circular music that he could sell.

Cash and his partners were able to do just that as they came up with “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”. The two songs turned out to be instant hits. Other amazing songs were soon released by the singer but the real taste of fame came when Cash wrote and released “I Walk The Line” which sprang up to number 1 on the country music chart.

From then onwards, Johnny Cash’s fame soared and saw the birth of other very good songs. His career spanned from 1954 to 2003 and within this time, he worked with several record labels and dropped numerous albums. His body of work included 67 studio albums, 102 compilation albums, 14 tribute albums, 12 live albums, 7 video albums, and 4 soundtrack albums.

Awards and Honors That Highlight The Legacy of Johnny Cash

The legacy of Johnny Cash extends to the movie industry as he also thrived as an actor, albeit not as much as he prospered as a musician. Often listed among the best-selling artists of all time, Cash sold over 90 million records across the globe.

A serial Hall of Famer, he was inducted into the Gospel Music, Country Music, and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. He was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters and Memphis Music Halls of Fame. When Cash passed in 2003, he was the only artist apart from Elvis Presley to have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a performer.

Johnny Cash’s career was decorated with numerous awards and honors that are just too many to count. From the CMAs to Grammys and other prestigious gongs, Johnny bagged multiple of them in various categories. With over a thousand songs to his name, his most potent legacy is probably the numerous musicians he inspired. In Dyess, Arkansas, The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival holds every year in his honor.

Family and The Challenges He Faced In His Personal Life 

Johnny and Vivian Cash: Image Source

Johnny Cash was not left out on controversies as fame often comes with pain. In the 1960s, the singer severely abused drugs and alcohol. He had reportedly attempted to commit suicide on one occasion when he was under the heavy influence of drugs. His use of drugs was so much that law enforcement on one occasion arrested him after they suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico while on tour. He was, however, found to be smuggling amphetamines into the United States.

Johnny’s drug and alcohol abuse further led to the end of his first marriage. In 1954, just after he was discharged from the military, he married Vivian Liberto who was by his side through his years of progression as a musician. They had 4 daughters; Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara.

In 1966, Vivian filed for divorce over her husband’s constant abuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as his repeated acts of adultery with other women while on tour. Cash’s wife was particularly concerned about her husband’s close relationship with singer June Carter whom he toured with.

As things would later pan out, June became Johnny Cash’s second wife. She played a significant role in helping him get his reckless life under control and he decided to give matrimony a second chance by marrying her. The two got married on March 1, 1968, and were blessed with a son named John Carter Cash. John followed in his father’s footsteps to become a country music singer as did two of his half-sisters; Rosanne and Cindy.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash and June Carter

The Death of The Icon and The Wealth He Left Behind

In the late 1990s, Johnny Cash’s health began to deteriorate. He was later diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease autonomic neuropathy. In 1998, he was hospitalized with severe pneumonia which damaged his lungs, causing him to suspend his career.

After later regaining his health a bit, Johnny returned to the studio to release two albums; American III: Solitary Man (2000) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). His declining health got complicated again after his wife June died in 2003. Cash would later kick the bucket four months after she passed, precisely on the 12th of September 2003 at the age of 71. He had been hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, and reports have it he died of complications from diabetes.

Johnny Cash was buried next to his wife at Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee. As a result of him being amongst the highest-earning musicians of his time, he was estimated to have a net worth of $60 million when he died.

Rejoice Ohmar
Rejoice Ohmar
Through words. Writing is my way of helping others explore their own unique ideas while crafting compelling narratives that can inspire readers everywhere.


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