The story goes that because Cash wore black during all of his shows, some of his colleagues nicknamed him “The Undertaker,” but audiences know him simply as “The Man In Black.”
Cash originally claimed that he started to wear all black on tour because it was the only color that could be kept clean…or at least made to look as though it was clean.
In 1971, Cash wrote the song “Man in Black”, to help explain his dress code:
We’re doing mighty fine I do suppose,
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought to be a man in black.
He wore black on behalf of the poor and hungry, on behalf of “the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,” and on behalf of those who have been betrayed by age or drugs.
“with the Vietnam War as painful in my mind as it was in most other Americans’, I wore it in mournin’ for the lives that could have been… Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position… The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”
Thank you Mr. Cash for carrying off the darkness. Thank you for standing up for those who could not. Thank you for being the man who fell down but kept standing up, the man who became successful in spite of all that was thrown at him. Thank you for taking on more than your share of the darkness.
Thank you for being The Man in Black.
In spite of his own struggles with addiction and hardship, Cash did all he could to give a voice to those he thought needed it and in doing what he thought was right came great success ultimately making him one of the most influential musicians in American history.
Johnny Cash was a greatly accomplished musician becoming the first Sun Records artist to release a long-playing (LP) album in 1957, the youngest living inductee (at age 48) into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in1977, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Only four other musicians join Cash in being inducted into all three ( Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams Sr., Bill Monroe, and Bob Wills).
Johnny Cash did something most artists can’t, he appealed to everyone. His soulful, honest music so obviously rooted in his own hardships made him one with the common man and every audience from rock n’ roll to country to indie found something about The Man In Black to connect with.
Cash’s career spans 50 years and for 35 of those, his partner and wife, June Carter Cash was there to share it with him. June died on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73 and Johnny died just four months later. Although, his death was attributed to complications from diabetes, it would seem he died of broken heart.
At the July 5, 2003, concert (his last public performance), before singing “Ring of Fire” Cash read a statement about his late wife that he had written shortly before taking the stage:
“The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.”
The Man In Black would have been 83 today. Happy birthday Mr. Cash. Here’s hoping you and June have made it out of the darkness.
Author: Brenna Fischer
Editor: Emma Ruffin