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This "man in black" with his deep distinctive voice that was at home singing country, blues, rock, folk and gospel music is deservedly considered one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century.
Born J. R. Cash, the initials only because his parents, Ray and Carrie Cloveree Cash couldn't think of a proper name for him, on this date 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas. He was the fourth of seven children and the family moved when J. R. was three to Dyess, Arkansas so that his father could take advantage of the New Deal farming programs instituted by President Roosevelt. For the next fifteen years J. R. would work those cotton fields along side of his parents and siblings, oftentimes singing most of the work day.
Music was an escape from life's hardships for the Cash family and others like them. Religion had a strong impact on J.R.'s early life as his mother was a devout Pentacostal and his older brother Jack was committed to joining the priesthood until a tragic farming accident took his life at age 14. It was this incident that solidified Cash's lifelong faith in God.
Having learned to play guitar at an early age and sensing her son had a gift for song, his mother scraped up enough money for singing lessons. After only three lessons his teacher, thoroughly enthralled by Cash's rich voice, told him to stop taking lessons and to never deviate from his natural voice.
In 1950 Cash graduated from high school and enlisted in the Air Force where he learned that they would not accept initials for his name. He adopted John R. Cash as his name and in 1955 when signing with Sun Records, he took the stage name "Johnny" Cash. Throughout his life his family and closest friends called him J. R.
As his career took off Johnny endured endless days, weeks and months of touring, performing in over 200 shows a year. This brutal schedule took its toll as Cash drank too much, became addicted to amphetamines, was arrested for smuggling pills in from Mexico and wrecked his marriage.
In 1968 he married June Carter after she helped him overcome his addictions and to rekindle his faith. They were married 35 years until June died in May of 2033 from complications from heart surgery. Johnny died four months later on September 12th.
By the early 70s Cash had crystallized his image as "The Man in Black" as he regularly performed in all black, most often wearing a long black knee-length coat. He wrote the song "Man in Black" to help explain his dress code: "We're doing mighty fine I do suppose / In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes / But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back / Up front there ought to be a man in black."
Cash also claimed he wore black on behalf of the poor and hungry, the prisoner who has long paid for his crime and those who have been betrayed by age or drugs. Additionally he said that with the Vietnam War still very painful in his mind that he "wore it in mournin' for the lives that could have been...".
At what would be his final public performance on July 5, 2003, Cash read this statement about his late wife that he wrote shortly before taking stage:
The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.Cash died of complications from diabetes on September 12, 2003, while hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. It has been suggested that Johnny's health worsened due to a broken heart over June's death. He was buried next to June Carter Cash in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.