Cash, June Carter
Singer, songwriter, autoharpist
June Carter Cash followed her mother, Maybelle Carter, into country music and has been performing virtually nonstop since she was ten years old. A second-generation member of the famous Carter Family, June has won a worldwide following for the traditional folk-oriented Appalachian sound of her forebears. By virtue of her marriage to country superstar Johnny Cash, she has brought mountain music to country and even blues and rock fans, thus assuring a continued interest in a rich musical heritage.
Two years before June was born in 1929, her mother, aunt, and uncle journeyed to Bristol, Virginia, to audition for record producer Ralph Peer. Peer, who also produced country legend Jimmie Rodgers, signed the trio to a contract, and the original Carter Family began to release songs on the Victor label. The Carter Family’s repertoire consisted primarily of Blue Ridge Mountain ballads, sung in three-part harmony with sophisticated acoustic accompaniment. Maybelle Carter, known to country fans as Mother Maybelle, took the alto part in most of the recordings, and she picked both guitar and autoharp. Throughout the 1930s the Carter Family recorded together regularly, even though its members had to supplement their musicians’ incomes by working in factories and on farms.
June was born and raised in her father’s hometown of Maces Springs, Virginia. Her father, Ezra Carter, was a farmer. The success of the Carter Family occasioned frequent travel, and by the time she was ten June was no stranger to the road. She began to perform with her famous family in Texas on a powerful border radio station in 1939. By the time June joined the Carter Family on the airwaves, several other second-generation Carters were already included in the group. The younger Carters—June, her sisters Helen and Anita, and a cousin, Janette Carter—often performed novelty songs and popular 1930s hits in their portion of the radio show, while their parents adhered to the traditional Appalachian folk music that had brought them renown.
The original Carter Family disbanded in 1943. Maybelle, arguably the most talented picker in the group, recruited her daughters and formed a new act, the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle. This reconstituted Carter Family played both traditional and novelty songs, and soon they earned a spot on WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia. From there they moved to WSM in Nashville, becoming regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. In an essay for Stars of Country Music, John Atkins wrote: “Where the original [Carter] family had never veered from their own tradition, Maybelle and the girls made every effort to keep up with the many changes and developments in Nashville and in country
Born June 23, 1929, in Maces Spring, VA; daughter of Ezra (a farmer) and Maybelle (a country singer and instrumentalist; maiden name, Addington) Carter; married Carl Smith (a singer; divorced); married Johnny Cash (singer-songwriter) March 1, 1968; children: (first marriage) Rozanna and Carlene; (second marriage) John Carter.
Country singer, songwriter, and autoharpist, 1939—. With mother, Maybelle, and sisters Helen and Anita, performed as the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle c. 1943-69; appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and on television. Group joined Johnny Cash’s road show, 1961, and became regulars on Cash’s television show, 1966.
Solo performer c. 1955—. Actress and comedienne c. 1955-65. Has recorded albums with her family and as a solo artist, principally with RCA.
Addresses: Record company —RCA (Bertelsman Music Group), 1133 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
music generally. In short, they were shrewd enough to always retain a number of the family’s original songs in their program, and yet at the same time they were prepared to compete with anyone around to gain their share of success and fame.”
By the mid-1950s, June Carter was an established figure in Nashville. Most critics agree that her sister Anita showed more vocal talent, but June sometimes stole the show with her comedy, her picking ability on autoharp, guitar, and banjo, and her vivacious good looks. Eventually she decided to pursue a solo career in dramatics. She studied acting in New York City briefly, and she won guest appearances on such television shows as Jim Bowie and Gunsmoke. Having married Nashville crooner Carl Smith, she returned to singing by the late 1950s and worked as a solo act or with her family.
In the 1960s the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle joined the entourage of superstar Johnny Cash. The group travelled across the nation with Cash, opening for him and occasionally joining him onstage for encores. June was particularly drawn to the troubled young star who was struggling with drug abuse and antisocial behavior. She wrote or co-wrote songs for him, providing him hits in “Happy to Be with You,” “Jackson,” and “Guitar Pickin’ Man.” In turn Cash featured June and her sisters on his television variety show, a favor that widened the women’s audience considerably. June Carter married Johnny Cash in 1968 after Cash underwent rehabilitation for his substance abuse. They have been together ever since and have a son, John Carter Cash.
Johnny and June Carter Cash still perform as a duo, but they also continue to pursue separate careers. Even after her marriage, June teamed with her sisters for numerous tours in America and Europe. On one such tour, in 1986, June’s daughter from her first marriage, Carlene, stood in for Anita Carter in a London concert. Thereafter, Carlene Carter joined the family group. June is particularly proud that her daughter has shown an interest in the traditional Carter Family music and a desire to incorporate that style into her own work.
Singer, songwriter, and—some say—savior of the willful Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash is a reigning queen of country music. The dedication June and her sisters have shown to the original Carter Family music has kept a valuable national resource—Appalachian balladry—in the public eye. Although she is equally at home with standard country fare, and is even an engaging comedienne, June has earned significant praise for keeping faith with tradition—and for passing it on to those who follow her.
The Carter Family on Border Radio, John Edwards Memorial Foundation.
Keep on the Sunny Side, Columbia.
Three Generations of the Carter Family, Columbia.
Wildwood Flower, Columbia.
With Johnny Cash
Jackson, Columbia, 1970.
Give My Love to Rose, Harmony, 1972.
Johnny Cash and His Woman, Columbia, 1973.
Malone, Bill C. Country Music U.S.A., revised edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.
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People, November 12, 1990.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Cash, June Carter
Born into country music royalty, American singer and songwriter June Carter Cash (1929–2003) enjoyed several claims to fame. The niece of A. P. Carter, she was the daughter of Mother Maybelle, both founders of the seminal folk and country group the Carter Family. Carter Cash was also part of the Carter Sisters, before evolving into a Minnie Pearl style singer-comedienne and the mother of 1990s country hitmaker Carlene Carter. Yet, thanks in no small part to the popular 2005 biopic Walk the Line, she is best remembered for aiding the rise and survival of her third husband and frequent duet partner, Johnny Cash.
A Member of the Legendary Carter Family
Born Valerie June Carter on June 23, 1929, in Maces Spring, Virginia, she was raised in the Clinch Mountain area by her father Ezra Carter and mother, the former Maybelle Addington. Father Ezra Carter was the brother of Carter Family founder/songwriter A. P. Carter, while Mother Maybelle was a cousin through marriage to his singing wife, Sara. Maybelle grew up playing banjo, Autoharp, and guitar. In the process, she developed a thumb-pick-based guitar style known as the Carter scratch, which she employed with great success on the Carter Family's recordings, particularly the classic "Wildwood Flower."
While husband Ezra earned his living working for the railroad, Mother Maybelle raised daughters Helen, June, and Anita to sing and play music when she was not busy with her father-in-law's group. Thanks to song publisher/entrepreneur Ralph Peer, the Carter Family had become perennial favorites with their RCA-Victor recordings of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Keep on the Sunnyside," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," and dozens of others. The family band broadcast regularly from Del Rio, Texas, over radio station XERA. When Sara Carter, who had divorced A. P. in 1936, left the act to remarry, June and her sisters were drafted into the group to replace her until the band officially disbanded.
By 1943, she was singing regularly as an integral part of the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle. With Anita on upright bass, Helen switching off on guitar, accordion, and Autoharp, and June playing guitar and Autoharp, and of course the peerless Mother Maybelle on guitar, they were country music's first self-contained all-female band. Playing the old Carter Family repertoire and country gospel favorites of the era, the group became popular mainstays on such radio programs as the Old Dominion Barndance on WVRA, the Tennessee Barndance on WNOX, and KWTO's Ozark Jubilee.
Carter was not the best singer in her mother's group. That distinction belonged to sister, Anita, whose haunting soprano would grace gospel recordings for many years to come. However, sister June had nerve and wit, and she would play the dumbbell for laughs it that is what it took to get the audience's attention. She was also willing to divert from the Carter Sister's early policy of strictly folk and gospel. Accompanied by her father, in 1949 she went to New York to record with country cutups Homer and Jethro. Together, they did a parody of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," which rose to number nine on the country charts.
With a hit record under her belt, the little group moved to Tennessee and became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. One of the people they brought with them to Music City was none other than Chet Atkins, who played with the act for the next two years while getting his own career established. (The Carters also helped the Louvin Brothers get their start on record.) The exposure on the Opry led to a couple of hit records on RCA for Anita Carter, most notably "Down the Trail of Achin' Hearts" and a contract for the Carter Sisters with Decca and later Columbia, where they recorded old-timey material well into the 1960s folk revival.
Early Acting Ambition
While not singing with her mother and sisters, June Carter tried her hand at comedy and acting. Early kinescopes of television appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and the Kate Smith Hour show her playing a frenetic, boy crazy hick—a more youthful version of Minnie Pearl's classic country character. Her knack for comedic timing, and willingness to do anything for a laugh, helped her punch up the weak material she performed. In sketches, she often uttered the catchphrase, "I am a good ol' girl" as a way of signaling to the audience that her character knew she was plain. As the decade wore on, and it became evident that Carter was indeed a lovely young woman, she dropped some of the hayseed affectations and used more pathos in her comedy routines. Encouraged by famed director Elia Kazan, Carter eventually moved to New York and studied under Lee Strasberg at the famed Actor's Studio.
In 1952, Carter married country singer Carl Smith. Largely forgotten today, the crooner scored 69 Top-40 country hits between 1951 and 1972. Best known for such Columbia smashes as "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way," "(When You Feel Like You're in Love) Don't Just Stand There," "Hey Joe," and "Loose Talk," Smith met June when he had employed the Carter Sisters to provide background vocals on one of his gospel sessions. Carter was enamored with the good-looking honky-tonk crooner, but the demands of show business eventually pulled them apart. Their five-year marriage produced one daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, better known as Carlene Carter, who grew up to record such early 1990s country hits as "I Fell in Love" and "Every Little Thing."
After divorcing Smith, Carter married a Nashville policeman named Edwin Nix in 1957, and they had one child, Rozanna. Still pursuing an acting career, she was billed as June Carter while performing in sketches on the Jack Paar Show, as well as playing supporting roles on Gunsmoke and The Adventures of Jim Bowie. She also co-starred with country stars Ferlin Husky and Faron Young in the 1958 low-budget film Country Music Holiday. By 1961, Carter put her acting career on a back burner to tour with her mother and sisters—now billed as the Carter Family—as they opened shows for Johnny Cash.
Married to Johnny Cash
The Carters had known Johnny Cash since the mid-1950s, although sister June had not heard a single Cash record until another young firebrand named Elvis Presley played one for her on tour one night. (Presley used to tune his guitar to Cash's records.) According to legend, the second he was introduced to her backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, Cash blurted out that he would one day marry June Carter. Still married to Carl Smith at the time, Carter laughed it off, but as their paths continued to cross during the ensuing years, Cash and Carter developed a deep affection for each other. Indeed, that slow burning affection is hinted at in the song Carter co-wrote with Merle Kilgore, "Ring of Fire." Seething with mysticism and delayed gratification, Cash's recording of the tune stayed atop the country charts for seven weeks during mid-1963, and wrested his chart career out of the commercial doldrums.
Appearances from the mid-1960s on the TV show Shindig and the 1966 drive-in country music film The Road to Nashville, which also feature the Carter Family, show Cash at the height of his addiction to amphetamines. Skinny and twitchy, he performed well, but emitted the look of a junkie. Carter belatedly received a divorce from Edwin Nix in 1966, but before wedding Cash, she insisted that the Man in Black quit drugs and recommit to his faith. Her insistence that he clean up likely saved his life. The duo married in 1968 and gave birth to son John Carter Cash in 1970.
Acting as mother to her own children and stepmother to Cash's daughters from his first marriage, Tara, Kathy, and Rosanne, did not leave Carter much time to pursue a solo career. However, the material she cut with her husband set a benchmark for country duets. Despite her pedigree, recording with his wife could have been risky for Cash; he was an established mainstream star, while Carter was considered more of a personality than a singer. Yet on such efforts as their 1967 duet LP Carrying on with Johnny Cash and June Carter, they exhibited the type of sassy interplay typically found on Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood's pop hits. This is especially true on their Grammy winning remake of "Jackson" and her prickly composition "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man," which boasts twangy guitar licks courtesy of Carl Perkins. Equally fine was their smolderingly romantic version of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," which also won a Grammy in 1970.
A staunch advocate of early country music, Cash would prominently feature his wife and the Carter Family in his live shows into the mid-1980s. June Carter Cash proved a popular feature on both her husband's live concerts and his ABC-TV show, where they would trade dry quips with deadly accuracy, or scream through the ultimate tale of a country wild child "Allegheny." Further, Carter and her sisters can be heard in fine form on the 1969 LP Johnny Cash at San Quentin, where June made prisoners laugh heartily when she joked, "Since we're the only girls on the show, I don't know what kind of show you're expecting out of us. Sometimes they do girly type kind of shows. But I've got one type of announcement—I don't want any confusion. This is as sexy as I'm gonna git!"
A Belated Solo Career
Carter Cash also encouraged her husband's pursuit of spiritual matters. During a trip to the Holy Land, she had a dream about her husband high atop a mountain reading about Jesus from the Bible. Subsequently, Cash financed and narrated the 1972 religious film Gospel Road, in which he cast his wife as Mary Magdalene. The film, featuring a blonde-haired blue-eyed actor playing Jesus Christ, was a critical failure and commercial flop, although it was later acquired by Reverend Billy Graham and shown to the faithful at fund-raising events.
During her rare slack moments, Carter wrote two volumes of her life story, Among My Klediments (1979) and From the Heart (1987). As Cash's career began to slowly wane during the 1980s and 1990s, Carter began taking acting roles again. Appearances on such TV programs as Little House on the Prairie, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and in several TV films allowed her to stretch her acting chops.
By the late 1990s, the alternative Country movement had inspired fresh appreciation of the Carter Family sounds, and she was invited by the independent Risk label, where she was the only country act, to record her first solo discs. "I've been on tour with John all these years," she told Robert Wooldridge of Country Standard Time in 1999. "I just worked along with him and didn't really think about stopping and recording again. He was always busy thinking about recording, but I was busy helping him get his songs together. I think I put him as my first priority."
Re-cutting such Carter Family staples as "Church in the Wildwood," "Hold Fast to the Right," and the Carter Sister's classic "Kneeling Drunkard's Pleas," she crafted affecting gasps of true warts'n'all old-time country music with a back porch feel. Enthralled, her peers rewarded the 1999 album Press On with a Grammy Award. As her husband's health failed, so, too, did Carter's. During heart valve replacement surgery, June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003. She was honored with two posthumous Grammy Awards for her single "Keep on the Sunny Side" and her album Wildwood Flower. Her famous husband died four months after her own death. Their love story was celebrated in the Oscarwinning 2005 film Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.
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Cash, June Carter
Born Valerie June Carter, June 23, 1929, in Maces Springs, VA; died of complications following open–heart surgery, May 15, 2003, in Nashville, TN. Singer and songwriter. June Carter Cash, perhaps best known as the wife of country–music legend Johnny Cash, was an accomplished performer in her own right in the years before her marriage. Venerated by nearly every country–music star who emerged out of the Nashville scene since the mid–twentieth century, Cash was deemed "a link from the bedrock of the genre's history to its most respected modern practitioners" by Entertainment Weekly after her death.
Cash was born in 1929 in Maces Spring, Virginia, where her father Ezra farmed, but her mother, aunt and uncle had already formed a music group by then called the Carter Family that enjoyed some regional fame. The group's growing success led the family to relocate to Texas when Cash was ten years old, in order to be nearer to a powerful radio station in Del Rio, XERA, whose country–music programming could be heard as far north as Saskat-chewan, Canada. Cash's group, led by her famous parent, "Mother" Maybelle Carter, were a string–based ensemble and had their own show on XERA for a number of years, and Cash sang her own numbers and played the autoharp. The group broke up in 1943, but Cash and her sisters continued to perform with Maybelle, and made frequent appearances on the stage of Nashville's legendary Grand Ole Opry.
Cash sometimes joked that her voice was the weakest of the bunch, and so she honed her comic talents to compensate. Her performing style caught on, and she had her first solo hit in 1949, "Baby It's Cold Outside," which was a duet with an act called Homer and Jethro. She wed singer Carl Smith, with whom she had a daughter, Carlene, but the couple were divorced by 1957 and Cash then wed her second husband, Rip Nix, a Nashville police officer; they had a daughter named Rozanna. Her stage presence attracted the attention of leading theater and film director Elia Kazan, who suggested she pursue a performing career outside of the music business. Cash studied under Lee Strasberg, head of the famed Actors' Studio in New York, and also at the Neighborhood Playhouse in that city. In 1961, she was offered a slot on a planned television variety show for which an unknown Woody Allen was part of the comic–writing team, but Cash declined it in order to take a job touring with country–music star Johnny Cash.
Cash had met her future husband backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956; by the early 1960s Johnny had enjoyed tremendous success but was plagued by addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol. On tour, June would hide his pills and even flush them down the toilet. She co–wrote his 1963 hit "Ring of Fire" with Merle Kilgore and the song became indelibly associated with his career. "Instead of the usual seraphic love language of teen–angels," noted her New York Times obituary by Ben Ratliff, "it used images of suffering and hellfire and is probably the most complicated popular love song in country music."
Both Cash's marriage to Nix and Johnny Cash's ended, and he proposed to her on stage one night in London, Ontario. They were wed in 1968, not long after their duet "Jackson," from the 1967 LP Carryin' On, won a Grammy. The duo won their second Grammy for the 1970 hit "If I Were a Carpenter," and though Cash performed frequently with her husband onstage for much of the following decade, she stopped making solo records almost entirely. She continued to take the occasional film and television role after the birth of their son, John Carter Cash, in 1970, and appeared in a small but compelling part as the deeply religious mother of Robert Duvall's minister character in the 1997 film The Apostle.
In a 1996 gig with her husband at the House of Blues in Hollywood, Cash sang a new song she had written about the vagaries of fame, "I Used to Be Somebody," which led to a new record deal. Her 1999 release Press On, won the Grammy in the folk–music category. "I've been really happy just traveling with John and being Mrs. Johnny Cash all these years," Los Angeles Times writer Geoff Boucher quoted her as saying. "But I'm also really happy and surprised that someone wanted me to make another album, and I'm real proud of what I've done."
Cash and her husband had homes in Nashville, in the Clinch Mountain area of Virginia, and in Jamaica. In 2003, she underwent surgery to replace a heart valve, and never recovered; she passed away at the age of 73. Cash is survived by her two daughters, a son, four stepdaughters, and several grandchildren. Her death was mourned as the passing of one of country's most beloved performers, and her husband died just four months later. Those close to the family claim he never recovered from her death. As he wrote in his autobiography, according to the Los Angeles Times's Boucher, "What June did for me was post signs along the way, lift me when I was weak, encourage me when I was discouraged, and love me when I was alone and felt unlovable."
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/05/15/june.carter.cash.obit.ap/index.html (May 16, 2003); Entertainment Weekly, May 30, 2003; Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2003, p. B13; New York Times, May 16, 2003, p. A23; People, June 2, 2003, p. 89; September 29, 2003, p. 78; Times (London), http://www.timesonline.co.uk (May 18, 2003); Washington Post, May 16, 2003, p. B6.