NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Sunday Feb. 26, would have been Johnny Cash’s 91st birthday. Cash died almost 20 years ago, in September of 2003, after a decades-long career writing and singing classic tunes such as “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line” and “Jackson” with his wife, June Carter. Cash is one of the best-selling artists of all time with more than 90 million records sold worldwide. Here are some things you may not know about the Man in Black.
#1 – His names
Johnny was born J.R. Cash, but changed it to John R. Cash in 1950, when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force would not permit him to use initials as a first name, so he chose John.
When he and the Tennessee Two signed with Sun Records in 1954, Sam Phillips renamed him Johnny, and Cash never used another one.
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#2 – His homes
Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas. He was the fourth of seven children born to Ray Cash and Carrie Cloveree (nee Rivers), according to the official Johnny Cash website. His siblings were, in order: Roy, Margaret Louise, Jack, Reba, Joanne and Tommy.
He later lived in Dyess, Arkansas, where he graduated high school. His boyhood home is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as of 2018.
From 1968 until his death in 2003, Cash and June Carter lived in a Hendersonville mansion overlooking Old Hickory Lake. The 14,000-square-foot home sat on a 4.5-acre property in Sumner County. Following the deaths of Johnny and June, the home was purchased by Bee Gees member Barry Gibb. While making renovations, the home completely burned to the ground in 2007, leaving nothing behind but the foundation and some stone walls.
According to Sumner County property records, the home was sold in 2014 for $2 million and then sold again in 2020 for $3.2 million.
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#3 – His marriages
While Johnny and June are synonymous in most people’s eyes, Johnny Cash was first married to Vivian Liberto. Johnny met Vivian while in the Air Force and wrote her letters every day while he was on assigned as a radio operator in Landsberg, Germany. The couple married in 1954 and had four daughters, including Roseanne Cash, but divorced in 1966.
Cash met June Carter in Nashville during his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. He proposed to her 55 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1968, during a live performance in Canada. The couple married seven days later.
#4 – His children
Johnny Cash had four daughters and one son between his two marriages. With Liberto he had Roseanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. With June he had John Carter.
Johnny also became a stepfather to June’s daughters from her first two marriages, Carlene and Rosie.
#5 – His faith
Despite his dark persona and nickname, Johnny Cash was a devout Christian and recorded numerous gospel songs in addition to his rockabilly and country hits. His first gospel album, “Hymns by Johnny Cash,” was released in 1954, and he would go on to release at least six more, including one posthumous release in 2004.
Cash also wrote a novel titled “Man in White” about the Apostle Paul in 1986 and made a recording of himself reading the New Testament.
#6 – His music
According to the Johnny Cash Museum, Cash posted over 130 hits on the Billboard Country Singles chart, which is more than anyone in history, excluding duets. He had at least two singles on the Country charts for 38 consecutive years, including 25 hits between 1958 and1960.
In total, 96 studio albums have been issued containing original material, according to the museum. Collaborations, compilations, foreign titles and sound tracks bring the total number of albums released to over 500.
He recorded over 1,500 songs during his career, per the museum.
#7 – His awards
Over his career, Johnny Cash amassed 17 Grammy awards, was bestowed the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors and was inducted into three separate Halls of Fame: Country Music, Rock and Roll and Nashville Songwriter’s – the only entertainer to do so, according to the Johnny Cash Museum.
According to Rolling Stone, Johnny Cash joined only Elvis Presley in being a performer inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
#8 – His image
Cash was arrested multiple times, mostly through the 1960s, but was never imprisoned. Most of his arrests were due to drug issues or trespassing – all misdemeanors. Cash’s only time behind prison walls came from concerts he performed. He first started having concerts inside prisons in the late 1950s.
His most famous prison performances were inside Folsom State Prison and San Quentin State Prison in California. Both concerts yielded highly successful live albums, “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” (1968) and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” (1969).
Cash later performed at the Swedish prison Österåker in 1972, which also yielded a live album in 1973.
#9 – His TV show
For nearly two years, Johnny Cash was the star and host of his own music variety show, “The Johnny Cash Show.” It was taped at Ryman Auditorium.
Cash would regularly feature June Carter and the Carter Family, as well as The Tennessee Three, Cash’s original backing band. Special guests on the show included Joni Mitchell, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Wynette and Louis Armstrong.
#10 – His legacy
While some artists “burn out or fade away” as Neil Young once said, Johnny Cash continued to influence and inspire artists throughout his entire life, according to the official Johnny Cash site.
His clothes, guitars and other memorabilia are on display in museums around the country, including the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, located at 119 3rd Ave. S.
At the end of his life, Cash became a champion of the American Experience, as well as a “portal through which mortals glimpse immortality, an exemplar of overcoming adversity through honesty, and a role model in the everlasting pursuit of Redemption and the promise of the unclouded day.”
The city of Folsom, Calif., named an art trail after Cash. The trail features Cash-based art pieces, including multiples statues of the singer, a symbolic ring of fire and more. The trail starts near Folsom Lake and ends near the Folsom Historic Downtown area.
In 2015, a new species of black tarantula was discovered near Folsom State Prison. Upon its discovery, taxonomists named it Aphonopelma johnnycashi in his honor.