Johnny Cash’s Life and Musical Career


  1. Even with today’s popularity of eclecticism, not many artists can mix five genres in one song and fewer have done so repeatedly and with staggering popularity.
    1. Rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel cannot be further apart.
    2. This unlikely melange of sounds is precisely what made Johnny Cash famous.
  2. Today I will attempt to give you an overview of who Johnny Cash was.
  3. Choosing this topic is a matter of paying homage to the man who helped shape the music scene for more than 50 years.
  4. His character, deeply interwoven with his convictions and music, remains essential to American music.

(Introducing him primarily through his biography seems appropriate, as there could be no tune without a person playing it.)

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  1. Accepted into halls of fame of country, rock and roll, and gospel musical genres, Johnny Cash was also an actor, a profoundly religious man, and, briefly, a part of the Muppets in 1981.
    1. John M. Alexander, author of The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash, outlines the singer’s life through its hardships.
      1. Johnny Cash was born in 1932 and from an early age worked with his family, picking cotton until 1950.
      2. Following his four-year military service and after a failed stint at becoming a radio announcer, he got a recording deal in 1955.
      3. As his fame increased, Johnny Cash became more involved with drug abuse, out of which he emerged religious, popular, and the star of his own TV show, until he relapsed again.
    2. Despite becoming a controversial figure due to drug-related activities, the singer maintained popularity and remained loved.
    3. In an interview with columnist Kurt Loder, for the third 2015 issue of the Southern Cultures journal, Johnny Cash said that he was “young and wild and crazy.”
    4. He released an album titled Johnny Cash Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous merely three years after his first recording.
    5. He also played prison concerts and befriended an American president. (Simply saying that he was famous, however, does not do justice to the charm that permeates his songs.)
  2. The music that Johnny Cash wrote always stemmed from introspection, touching upon every-day topics that were relevant to American people.
    1. His songs always tied with his own experiences, for example, cotton picking in “In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home.”
    2. The song “I Walk the Line” initially seems to be merely a love song, but is indicative of his romantic devotion, despite this not always being correct.
    3. His performances with famous stars, such as Elvis Presley, brought him even more fame.
      1. W. S. Holland, Cash’s friend and drummer, remembers his band’s jamming session when both Cash and Presley showed up impromptu to join them.
      2. This collective performance became the basis for the uniquely occurring Million Dollar Quartet. (The mentioned two songs and two albums are sufficient to find a pattern to Johnny Cash, biographically as well as musically)


  1. In closing, it is necessary to say that the life of Johnny Cash may be considered equal parts a put-on outlaw act and a real tragedy.
  2. His songs are indicative of not only trends in the 1950s music industry but also of the American life, average enough for everyone, from presidents to convicts, to appreciate.
  3. So next time you hear the song “Man in Black” think of it less like bragging and more like an autobiography of a troubled man hoping to find some semblance of goodness within himself.

Works Cited

Alexander, John M. The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash. University of Arkansas Press, 2018.

Loder, Kurt, and Johnny Cash. “Johnny Cash: “You Have to Call Me the Way You See Me”.” Southern Cultures, vol. 21, no. 3, 2015, pp. 5-17. Web.

Setnyk, Jason. “Interview with Johnny Cash legendary drummer WS Holland.” The Cornwall Seeker, 2017. Web.

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