He played for prisoners and the common folks of America. He was “The Man in Black,” the spokesman for blue collar workers, Native Americans, and forgotten soldiers. He recorded hundreds of songs that blended folk, country, blues, and rock and roll. He toured with Elvis and Carl Perkins. He was one of the most famous men ever to come from Arkansas. That man was Johnny Cash.
He was born this day in 1932 in Kingsland in Cleveland County, Arkansas. In 1935, Cash moved with his family to Dyess in Mississippi County. Cash lived there until 1950, when he graduated from high school and joined the military. After returning from the Air Force, where he worked as code breaker in West Germany, Cash settled in Memphis.
In 1955, he recorded his first songs for legendary producer Sam Phillips at Sun Studios. Cash soon hit the road, beginning one of the most successful careers in music. By 1969, Cash was at the height of his fame, selling more albums that year than the Beatles. By the time of his death in 2003, Cash had more than 60 original albums to his credit.
Cash, however, never forgot Arkansas. His music career began with him playing high school gyms and small clubs in his home state and eventually gravitating to concerts before thousands in Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Harrison. In 1968, he provided “foot stomping” music at rallies for Winthrop Rockefeller, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. In 1969, Cash thrilled the inmates at Cummins prison in Lincoln County.
For all his fortune, fame, and awards, Cash never forgot his roots in the rugged cotton lands of the Delta. He visited Arkansas every decade of his adult life. Only poor health in the 1990s kept him from playing more dates in in his home state.
Since his death, Cash’s legacy only seems to get stronger. He is the subject of international acclaim. In honor of his life and days in Arkansas, the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC) is working on an exhibit featuring rarely seen images of Johnny Cash. The exhibit, which is opening in October 2014 at the Arkansas Studies Institute in downtown Little Rock, will feature photographs and memorabilia highlighting Cash’s experiences in the Natural State. A centerpiece of the exhibit will be the concerts Cash performed for Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in 1968 and the concert at Cummins prison farm the following year. The exhibit will also feature live concerts performances featuring the music of Johnny Cash.
CAHC will feature regular updates on the progress of the exhibit and also blog posts discussing some of the less studied aspects of Cash’s life and career.