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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.