The Trail

Why Did Johnny Cash Always Wear Black? 30 Facts about America's Outlaw

2/22/2024 | By Johnny Cash Trail| Johnny Cash

Legend. Rebel. Patriot. Trouble-maker. Man of God. Father, husband, son. Johnny Cash is one of America's most famous and well-loved icons, and his story is one of success, hope, loss, redemption, family, and love. How well do you know the story of Johnny Cash?

Here are 30 of the most-asked Cash questions to appease your appetite for knowledge about the iconic performer.

Where did Johnny Cash Grow Up?

In 1932, Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas. When he was three years old, his family moved to a five-room farmhouse on 20 acres of land in Dyess, Arkansas. The Cash family was accepted into a federally-assisted planned community created during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. This "second chance" from the government for his family instilled a deep sense of patriotism in Cash. 

How Many Siblings did Johnny Cash have?

Born to Ray and Carrie Rivers Cash, Cash was one of seven children: Tommy Cash, Roy Cash, Joanne Cash, Jack Cash, Reba Cash, and Margaret Louise Cash. 

Cash's younger brother, Tommy, made his own name in the music business. Tommy is best known for his 1969 No. 4 hit on the Billboard country charts, "Six White Horses." Tommy and Johnny Cash sometimes performed together later in their careers.  

Did Johnny Cash take Music Lessons as a child?

After three singing lessons in his youth, Cash's teacher told him to stop taking lessons for fear it would affect his talent and encouraged him to cultivate his natural voice

Cash had a love for singing since childhood; his family, especially his mother, turned to songs for comfort and inspiration. Cash would sit at his mother's feet in the evenings as she played gospel songs on an acoustic guitar or the family's $37 upright piano.

When did Johnny Cash Start Writing Songs?

By the time he was 12 years old, Johnny Cash was writing poems, stories, and songs. He later stated, "I always knew I wanted to be a songwriter and a singer." During his time in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, Cash became a serious songwriter. He described the transformation of his songwriting, saying, "Being away from my family and loved ones for two-and-a-half years, I wrote, not out of loneliness and boredom, but because I was alone and it was a natural way to express myself to myself, to my friends, and to my world."

How did Johnny Cash's Brother Die?

On May 13, 1944, 14-year-old Jack Cash was trying to earn some extra money for the family by making fence posts at the high school's agricultural building, a job that would pay him $3. Young J.R. had pleaded with Jack to go fishing with him instead that day, but Jack felt a duty to the family. While cutting fence posts out of oak logs on a table saw with no guard on it, Jack suffered a stomach injury that would prove fatal. The teenager was rushed to the hospital, where he died a week later on May 20, 1944.

Johnny Cash was profoundly affected by the loss of his brother, spending more time alone and becoming more introspective. On his deathbed, Jack spoke of a crossroads between dark and light;  this had a lasting effect on Cash's spirituality throughout his life.

Was Johnny Cash his Real Name?

At birth and throughout his youth, his legal name was J.R. Cash (a compromise between John and Ray, as his parents couldn't agree), and it's this name that appears on his high school diploma, where Cash was the vice-president of his 1950 class. 

When he joined the Air Force, Cash could not register for the armed forces without a first name, so he became John R. Cash. When he began singing with Sun Records in 1955, he changed his name once more to Johnny Cash, and so it remained. 

What is the Most Interesting Thing That Happened to Cash in the Air Force?

When he was in the U.S. Air Force, Cash became a Staff Sergeant and Morse Code operator. Cash had amazing skills at cracking Soviet code. 

While transcribing the Soviet Morse Code chatter, Johnny Cash became the first American to hear the news of the death of the Soviet leader Stalin. Cash immediately reported the news to his supervisors but was obliged to keep this "top secret" achievement to himself until years later.

Where did Cash Get His First Guitar?

Growing up, Cash and his family regularly sang spiritual songs together around the dinner table. Cash also sang at his school and church, even once winning a talent show at 17 with a $5 prize. Though his oldest brother Roy had already broken into the music industry with his band, the Dixie Rhythm Brothers, Cash wouldn't start playing on his own till he joined the Air Force and left for Germany. 

During his service, he purchased his first guitar in Öberammergau and began playing with other servicemen, forming a small band called the Landsberg Barbarians. He also began writing some of his first songs, even including the first draft of his hit, "Folsom Prison Blues."

Did Johnny Cash Play Any Pranks? 

In his later years, Johnny Cash's demeanor was seen as somber and serious. But the Man in Black is also known for his fun and wild side. Johnny Cash and his two Tennessee Three bandmates, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, liked getting into mischief around hotels during their tours. The trio had a history of lighting cherry bombs and putting them in toilets, as well as launching a couple of TVs out of windows. However, their biggest stunt happened in an Omaha hotel in the late 50s when Cash and his mates bought nearly 500 baby chicks and set 100 free on each of the five floors. 

How did Johnny Cash and June Carter Meet?

On July 7, 1956, Johnny Cash performed his first ever Grand Ole Opry show, meeting June backstage. Valerie June Carter was born into the first family of country music, the Carter family, and has been singing, performing, and entertaining for almost her entire life. 

They introduced themselves, Cash saying, "I've always wanted to meet you," and Carter replied, "I feel like I know you already." 

Why did Johnny Cash Wear Black?

In his own words, from the song Man in Black: 

"I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he's a victim of the times."

It's been reported that Cash wore a black shirt at his first performance at a Memphis church because he wanted to look "smart," and that he continued to wear black for good luck in every performance after. 

Later, the Man in Black had this to say about his apparel: 

"I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It's still my symbol of rebellion - against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others' ideas." 

Was Johnny Cash an Ordained Minister?

After battling with substance abuse for several years, Cash started to reconnect with his Christian roots in the late 1970s. Both Cash and his wife, June, were raised in Christian households, and the couple attended Bible study classes together to help Cash focus on his faith and conquer his addiction. 

In the early 1980s, he earned a theology degree and became an ordained minister, eventually officiating his daughter's wedding. However, he liked to keep this status under the radar

What were Johnny Cash's Best-Selling Albums?

His most popular and best-selling albums were the live albums he recorded in prisons: namely, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" in 1968 and "Johnny Cash at San Quentin" in 1969. 

Did Johnny Cash have a TV Show?

Yes, he did! The Johnny Cash Show was an American television music variety show hosted by Johnny Cash. The 58-episode series was taped at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, and ran from June 7, 1969, to March 31, 1971, on ABC. 

The show was popular, reaching No. 17 in the Nielsen ratings in 1970.

Between 1959 and 2003, Johnny Cash appeared as an actor in many TV series and TV movies, although he never made it to the big screen.

How Many Times Was Johnny Cash Arrested?

Johnny Cash was arrested seven times for misdemeanors, never being sentenced or spending more than one night in jail. His most well-known arrest took place when he was apprehended at the El Paso airport in 1965 for smuggling amphetamines from Mexico. 

Cash never did prison time, although he did pose for a promotional mug shot at Folsom Prison, wearing a bandage on his face to appear "roughed up" by guards.

How Did Johnny Propose to June?

Cash reportedly told June on the first night they met at the Grand Ol Opry in the 50s that he was going to marry her someday, to which she replied. "Good. I can't wait." They were both married to other people at the time, and it would be almost a decade before June accepted a real proposal from Johnny. 

On February 22, 1968, Johnny Cash surprised June with a marriage proposal while the duo performed together on stage in London, Ontario, Canada. They were wed a week later, on March 1, 1968, at a Methodist church in Franklin, Kentucky.

Did Johnny Cash and June Carter Divorce?

No, they did not. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash were married for 35 years until her death on May 15, 2003. 

What was Cash's Secret to a Happy Marriage?

In his last interview on August 20, 2003, Cash talked about being married to June for over 30 years and together for over 40 years. 

"We worked on the road together since 1963 and we got married in 1968. The secret to a happy marriage? Separate bathrooms," Cash chuckled.

How Many Children Did Johnny Cash Have?

Cash had a total of seven children. He had four daughters with his first wife, Vivianne Liberto: Roseanne Cash, Kathy Cash, Cindy Cash, and Tara Cash. He had one son with June: John Carter Cash. Cash was also stepfather to June's two daughters from her previous marriages: Carlene Carter and Rosie Nix Adams.

Did Johnny Cash Always Start Performances with "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash"?

Not always. This tradition began at his infamous Folsom Prison concert.

Why did Johnny Cash write "I Walk the Line"?

Johnny Cash was 23 and married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, when he wrote: "I Walk the Line." On tour, Cash wrote the song as a proclamation of fidelity. It was his vow to her that he would remain faithful. Rolling Stone ranked the song No. 30 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Unfortunately, Cash seemed unable to keep that promise. Liberto filed for divorce in 1966, naming adultery and drug and alcohol abuse for the break-up of her marriage.

How Many Grammys Did Johnny Cash Win?

Between 1963 and 2007, Cash was awarded 13 Grammy wins out of 35 total Grammy nominations.

What Movies Feature Johnny Cash Songs?

Cash's songs are often chosen for movie soundtracks; they lend an indelible quality to the scenes in which they're featured. Some more recent examples of this are the movies "Logan," "Django Unchained," "Killing Them Softly," "Silent Hill," and, of course, "Walk the Line."

Did Johnny Cash Write "Ring of Fire"?

Ring of Fire was co-written by Cash, June Carter, and songwriter/producer Merle Kilgore. June thought the song up while driving around one night, frustrated by her love for Cash, who brought so much turmoil into her life. She did not originally write the song for Johnny to sing, though. She gave it to her sister Anita Carter to record, but Cash loved the song so much that he wanted to record it as well. The rest is history.

Did Johnny Cash Write Any Books?

In addition to being a masterful songwriter, Johnny also put his pen to paper for books. Cash wrote two autobiographies during his life, but did you know he had an affliction for fiction too? He wrote a novel titled, "Man in White," a story rooted in Christianity drawing inspiration from the Bible. Though it wasn't an NYT Best Seller, it got a lot of praise from religious critics.

Did Johnny Cash Really Fight an Ostrich?

Johnny Cash had an affinity for animals and eventually even built his own exotic animal park behind the House of Cash offices. In his second autobiography, Cash described a rather violent encounter he had with an Ostrich on the property. The Ostrich had recently lost its mate and was acting aggressively.

Cash passed him on a stroll as it hissed and spread its wings, but nothing came of it. When Cash walked past again, armed with a large stick, the ostrich began acting aggressively, so Cash threw the stick at him (he missed). In response, the bird attacked Cash, giving him a small gash near his belt line and 3 broken ribs when he was knocked down onto a rock. Though Cash survived the encounter, he attests that if it weren't for his belt, things could have gone very differently.

Did Johnny Cash Ever Perform on Kids' Shows?

Yes - He was on the Muppet Show! Most remarkable was his performance of the song "Jackson" with Miss Piggy. It is one of the only recorded instances of him singing that duet with anyone other than June Carter.

Did Chris Cornell Participate in the Making of Johnny Cash's "Rusty Cage"?

Cash was 64 years old in November of 1996 when the iconic album "Unchained," which included the single "Rusty Cage," was released. Cornell said he tried to write an arrangement of the song for Cash but couldn't reimagine the song in the country singer's style. When he heard the song for the first time, he was glad he hadn't done it, saying, "It sounds like a song he could have written, which is great. They did it much better than I would have done." 

When Did Johnny Cash Die?

Johnny Cash died on September 12, 2003, at the age of 71, of complications from diabetes resulting in respiratory failure. Cash passed a mere four months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash.

In her final days, Cash said June instructed him to "get to work," which he did. Three days after June's death, Johnny had producer Rick Rubins set up a studio in his Tennessee home, where Cash went to work recording his final songs. Cash recorded almost 60 songs in the months between June's death and his own. Among them was "Like the 309," the last song Cash wrote and the second-to-last song he recorded before passing away. It was released on the posthumous album American V: A Hundred Highways on July 4, 2006.

Was Johnny Cash a Patriot or a Rebel?

Both. In his early years, Cash was known for his bad-boy antics on and off stage. He rebelled against the establishment and lived his life standing up for the underdog and protesting those things he found to be unjust. Cash was also a patriot who served in the military and loved his country and his ragged old flag. He was both a patriot and a rebel, an admitted sinner, and a man of God.

Johnny Cash was an imperfect man who was beloved by many, both in spite of his flaws and also because of them. His fans could relate to his humanity and found comfort in his music. Now you know a little more about him, the life he lived, the kind of man he was, and why he always wore black.