Johnny Cash Archives - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Radio Bristol Book Club: The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Johnny Cash sold more than 50 million albums over his 40-year career and is the only artist to be inducted into four different Hall of Fames – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Many biographies have been written about “the Man in Black” but none are quite like The Man in Song. This unique approach to a biography tells the story of Cash’s life through the lens of the music that meant so much to him. By studying the songs Cash wrote or chose to record, John Alexander takes the reader into the mind of the legendary singer and shows how deeply intertwined Cash’s life and music were.

Johnny Cash was a man who prized authenticity in his music, and Alexander demonstrates this as only a music historian can. He leads the reader though a detailed look at how the music and lyrics Cash wrote or recorded throughout his life reflect specific events, people, and memories that tell the story of his life.

The Man in Song book cover shows a black-and-white image of a young-ish Johnny Cash. He is looking straight at the camera, wears all black, and has his chin on his hand.

John M. Alexander is a music journalist and a lifelong fan and historian of Johnny Cash. He has a PhD in English from City University Graduate Center in New York and has worked as a professor and was the Senior Music Editor and Producer at Reader’s Digest for 18 years. He is now Senior Editor at the Brooklyn Eagle and has opened his own Alexander Records where he focuses on creating timeless compilations. He has created almost 400 CD box sets throughout his career. In 1977, he compiled Cash’s greatest gospel songs into a 3-CD box set collection called Johnny Cash Timeless Inspiration that prompted Cash to pen a personal note expressing his gratitude, saying “This is an album that has always been my dream project…I am eternally grateful that someone like yourself could share this love with me and put it out there for people to hear.” This note and the work on that collection led to a relationship and four more Johnny Cash box sets.

The Timeless Inspiration album cover shows an ocean and sunrise/sunset view with Johnny Cash's image in the foreground. He is in profile holding his guitar and wearing a black jacket over a white long-sleeved shirt.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, September 22 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for October is Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow by Karl Hagstrom Miller; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, October 27. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* Be sure to check out the current special exhibit at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – 1968: A Folsom Redemption – to learn more about Johnny Cash and his music. It is on display through October 20, 2022.

Erika Barker is Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.

June Carter Cash: A Life in Country Music

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.

This image shows a senior class spread from a yearbook. June Carter is seen on the right-hand page in the bottom right of four student photographs. She is wearing a light colored top or dress. At the bottom of the picture is her autograph, which reads: "Luck, June Carter / Valerie June Carter Cash." To the left of the four photographs are the names of the students with their activities listed below their names.
Before she became a full-time performer and country music icon, June was your typical high school senior. This yearbook hinted at her musical career in the clubs and activities she participated in, including girls’ chorus and choir, but also in the later autograph she wrote on her senior portrait photograph after she was famous!

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.

The Carter Family Album cover is a reddish-orange color with a leather bound, old photograph album shown in the center. The photograph album is labeled with the record's title "The Carter Family Album" and has an oval picture of Mother Maybelle, June, Anita, and Helen in the center.

The cover of The Carter Family Album has the look of an old family photograph album.

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.