We will continue to spotlight Johnny Cash.
Marriages and family
On July 18, 1951, while in Air Force training, Cash met 17-year-old Vivian Liberto at a roller skating rink in her native San Antonio. They dated for three weeks, until Cash was deployed to Germany for a three-year tour. During that time, the couple exchanged hundreds of pages of love letters. On August 7, 1954, one month after his discharge, they were married at St. Ann’s Catholic church in San Antonio. The ceremony was performed by her uncle, Father Vincent Liberto. They had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. Cash’s drug and alcohol abuse, constant touring, and affairs with other women, and his close relationship with future wife June Carter, led Liberto to file for divorce in 1966.
In 1968, 13 years after they first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, Cash proposed to June Carter, an established country singer, during a live performance in London, Ontario, marrying on March 1, 1968, in Franklin, Kentucky. They had one child together, John Carter Cash (born March 3, 1970). They continued to work together and tour for 35 years, until June Carter died in 2003. Cash died just four months later. Carter co-wrote one of Cash’s biggest hits, “Ring of Fire,” with singer Merle Kilgore. She and Cash won two Grammy awards for their duets.
Vivian Liberto claims a different version of the origins of “Ring of Fire” in I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny, stating that Cash gave Carter the credit for monetary reasons.
In 1954, Cash and Vivian moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. Perkins and Grant were known as the Tennessee Two. Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to get a recording contract. After auditioning for Sam Phillips, singing mostly gospel songs, Phillips told him that he didn’t record gospel music any longer. It was once rumored that Phillips told Cash to “go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell,” though in a 2002 interview Cash denied that Phillips made any such comment. Cash eventually won over the producer with new songs delivered in his early rock’a’billy style. In 1955 Cash made his first recordings at Sun, “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”, which were released in late June and met with success on the country hit parade.
On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley dropped in on Phillips while Carl Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks, with Jerry Lee Lewis backing him on piano. Cash was also in the studio and the four started an impromptu jam session. Phillips left the tapes running and the recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived and have since been released under the title Million Dollar Quartet. In Cash: the Autobiography, Cash wrote that he was the one farthest from the microphone and was singing in a higher pitch to blend in with Elvis.
Cash’s next record, “Folsom Prison Blues”, made the country Top 5, and “I Walk the Line” became No. 1 on the country charts and entered the pop charts Top 20. “Home of the Blues” followed, recorded in July 1957. That same year Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. Although he was Sun’s most consistently selling and prolific artist at that time, Cash felt constrained by his contract with the small label partly due to the fact that Phillips wasn’t keen on Johnny recording gospel, and he was only getting a 3% royalty as opposed to the standard rate of 5%. Presley had already left Sun, and Phillips was focusing most of his attention and promotion on Lewis. The following year Cash left the label to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” became one of his biggest hits.
In the early 1960s, Cash toured with the Carter Family, which by this time regularly included Mother Maybelle’s daughters, Anita, June and Helen. June later recalled admiring him from afar during these tours.
In the 1960s he appeared on Pete Seeger’s short lived television series Rainbow Quest. He also acted in a 1961 film entitled Five Minutes to Live, later re-released as Door-to-door Maniac. He also wrote and sang the opening theme.