Johnny Cash had a birth certificate marked J. R. Cash because his parents couldn’t decide what to call him. Their environment was the recurrent poverty that reigned in Thirties America, a background of depression where J. R. went to work in flooded fields, learned music and sang along with other cotton pickers, picking up jobs here and there, and finally signing up for three years in the Army.
In 1954 he went back to civilian life, married Vivian Liberto, and went through the studio doors at Sun Records, where Sam Phillips recorded his first hits. In ’57 he joined Columbia Records and a decade later married June Carter (of The Carter Family) in 1968. The following years were complicated by drugs, alcohol and constant tours, yet the pair remained together until June passed away in 2003. Johnny Cash only survived another four months.
His original country music showed empathy for those who had been rejected, and his vision of the misery around him. But he also had an especially warm baritone, and it gave Johnny Cash an immense and faithful audience. He sold 90 million albums, confirming him as one of the greatest artists in music, all genres included.