With one of them most instantly recognizable vocal timbres of the past century, John R. Cash's successful ventures into the fields of country, folk, rock and even gospel music, distinguish him as one of the most intriguing performers in all of 20th century popular music. He has recorded more than 1,500 songs and they can be found on about 500 albums, counting only American and European releases; more of them (45) remain in print today than most artists ever make. He has placed 48 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop charts, about the same number as the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, and has won 11 Grammys, including the 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2002 shared Grammy for Best Country Album.
Music was an integral part of everyday life in the Cash household during Cash's hardscrabble childhood in Arkansas. He soaked up a variety of musical influences ranging from his mother's folk songs and hymns to the work songs from the fields and nearby railroad yards. The tragic death of his older brother precipitated John to leave home, and setting off for Detroit, he found work at an auto plant, but soon enlisted in the Air Force. While in the service in Germany, Cash organized his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians.
In 1954, Cash auditioned as solo artist for Sam Phillips' Sun Records. He entertained hopes of recording gospel music for the label, but Phillips immediately nixed that idea. By the following spring, though, Cash was in the Sun Studios to record with his band The Tennessee Three. Cash's song "Cry, Cry, Cry" cracked Billboard's Top 20, peaking at No. 14, while "So Doggone Lonesome" and "Folsom Prison Blues" both broke into the trade publication's Top 10. But Cash's fourth chart single proved to be his career song. "I Walk the Line" shot to Billboard's No. 1 position and remained on the record charts for an incredible 43 weeks, ultimately selling over 2 million copies. In 1956, he realized a longtime dream when he was invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. It was during this period that he earned the nickname that stuck with him all his life, the Man in Black.
Throughout the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Cash continued to produce remarkable records and charted consistently. His struggle with the demons of pills and alcohol, combined with a wild, destructive lifestyle, became legendary. In 1968, he married June Carter of the famous Carter Family, and made several records with her, including "Jackson." His marriage to June calmed his restless spirit, and the marriage endured for 35 years. A pair of live recordings made at Folsom Prison and San Quentin both went gold and a numerous accolades followed, including the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist awards in 1969.
The final payoff though, was a network television spot. Premiering in 1969, The Johnny Cash Show aired on ABC. Taped at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the show featured an eclectic mix of guests ranging from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Louis Armstrong and Merle Haggard. Through his selection of guests, Cash helped bridge the generation gap and break down musical barriers.
In 1980, at the age of 48, Cash became the youngest living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bestowed its honor on him in 1995, thus making him one of a handful of country artists in both organizations.
In 1985, Cash joined friends Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson to form The Highwaymen. The supergroup released three albums between 1985 and 1995, scoring a No. 1 hit with the single "Highwayman" from their first album, The Highwaymen.
In the 90s, Johnny made a career transition into rock, once again with great success.
After the unexpected death of his beloved June Carter Cash in May 2003, Cash also passed away September 12, 2003 at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, from complications from diabetes.