Today – June 23 – is June Carter Cash’s birthday. At the age of 10, Valerie June Carter stepped in front of the mic for the first time with The Carter Family, and from there her role and legacy in the musical realm only grew stronger.
June Carter was born into the “first family of country music,” as one of three daughters of Ezra and Maybelle Carter, and she came into this world just two years after the famous 1927 Bristol Sessions, where The Carter Family recorded for the very first time. June lived the majority of her life in the spotlight – after the original Carter Family disbanded in 1943, she (at the age of 14), along with sisters Helen and Anita, began singing as part of the family’s professional act, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. Even though they gained a lot of popularity under that name, Maybelle changed the band’s name to The Carter Family two years after A. P. Carter died in 1960. They released their first album, The Carter Family Album, on Liberty Records soon after. June also got a solo deal while preforming with the Carter Sisters.
June played many instruments including the harmonica, banjo, guitar, and autoharp. Not only did she have a solo career and a career with her family group, but she also had a career with her third husband, Johnny Cash. Together they won a Grammy in 1967 and 1970, and June also won three Grammys of her own, two of which she won after she passed away in 2003. That same year Country Music Television (CMT) included June on their “40 Greatest Women of Country Music” list.
June’s marriages connected to important musical legacies. Her first marriage was to Carl Smith, one of the most successful male country artists in the 1950s. Before June and Carl got divorced, they had one daughter, Rebecca Carlene, together. Today Carlene Carter is a singer-songwriter who is continuing the county music family legacy – her most recent album Carter Girl, is filled with three generations of Carter Family music. Carlene performed at the grand opening of the museum in 2014 too! You can read Carlene’s tribute to her mother on the blog here.
June married Johnny Cash, the “man in black” himself, in 1968, and they were together until June’s death in May 2003. June and Johnny were introduced to each other backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, though each of them was aware of the other through their music. In the years before they got married, June and Johnny performed and recorded together several times. June co-wrote “Ring of Fire,” which became one of Johnny’s most famous songs and topped the charts for seven weeks. Together Johnny and June had one son, John Carter Cash, who is also continuing the country music legacy of his family as a record producer and singer-songwriter.
Unlike her first and last unions, June’s second marriage – to Edwin “Rip” Nix – was not a marriage of two musical stars. Nix was a football player, racecar driver, and police officer, but their daughter Rosie also became a singer-songwriter. Sadly, she passed away in 2003, the same year as her mother, from carbon monoxide poisoning.
From the beginnings of the original Carter Family with Maybelle, Sara, and A. P. to June’s career as a country music icon to June’s children following in her and their grandmother’s footsteps, the lineage of Carter country musicians has strong roots and branches – a family born into, raised by, and innovating country music.
Julia Underkoffler is a summer intern at the Birthplace of Country Music. She is a rising senior at Shepherd University in West Virginia, majoring in historic preservation and public history and minoring in gender and women’s studies.