Born Feb. 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Ark., J.R. Cash was one of six children belonging to Ray and Carrie Rivers Cash.
At age 3, Cash's father took advantage of a new Roosevelt farm program and moved his young family to Dyess Colony in Mississippi County in northeast Arkansas. In Dyess, the Cash family farmed 20 acres of cotton and other seasonal crops, with John working alongside his parents and siblings in the fields.
The time in Northeast Arkansas would inspire the future Cash works: "Pickin' Time," "Five Feet High and Rising" and "Look at Them Beans" are all reflections on Cash's early life.
Cash remained in Dyess Colony until his graduation from high school in 1950. Shortly thereafter, Cash set off for Detroit in search of work, landing in Pontiac, Mich., working in an automotive plant. Soon after arriving in Michigan, Cash soon enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
After basic training in Texas (where he met first wife Vivian Liberto), he was shipped to Landsberg, Germany. While stationed abroad, Cash formed his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians.
After his discharge in 1954, Cash returned stateside and married Liberto. They settled in Memphis where Cash worked a variety of jobs -- including that of appliance salesman -- while trying to break into the music business.
In 1954, Cash auditioned as solo artist for the legendary Sam Phillips' Sun Records. Cash has hoped to record gospel music for the label, but Phillips immediately nixed that idea. By the following spring, however, Cash was in the Sun Studios to record with his band The Tennessee Three. The original group consisted of guitarist Luther Perkins, bass player Marshall Grant and Red Kernodle on pedal steel. Cash's first release for the label, "Hey Porter" was an impressive single, but the song failed to chart.
Cash's follow-up release for Sun, however, fared substantially better. "Cry, Cry, Cry" managed to crack Billboard's Top 20, peaking at No. 14. A long succession of chart singles followed. "So Doggone Lonesome" and "Folsom Prison Blues" both broke into the trade publication's Top 10.
But it was Cash's fourth chart single proved to be his career song. "I Walk the Line" went to Billboard's No. 1 position and remained on the record charts for an incredible 43 weeks, ultimately selling over 2 million copies.
In 1956, Cash's longtime dream to play the Grand Ole Opry was realized. By 1957, Cash had racked up an impressive string of hits and was working more than 200 dates a year.
In hopes of more artistic freedom, Cash switched to Columbia Records in 1958, hoping to make gospel records.
Throughout the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Cash continued to produce remarkable records and charted consistently. "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "I Got Stripes," "Ring of Fire," "Understand Your Man" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes."
Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and other top-rated network programs followed. In the 1960s, Cash became a fan of the folk music crowd thanks to concept albums such as Bitter Tears and Ballads of the True West.
However, it was during this time that personal troubles began to took their toll. His marriage was collapsing and divorce seemed inevitable. A grueling tour schedule (up to 300 shows per year) forced Cash to became dependent on narcotics to keep up the hectic pace.
By 1967, with the help of singing partner June Carter and family, overcame his drug addiction. A year later, Cash and Carter wed and Cash's career went through one of would become many renaissances. The seminal Folsom Prison live album led to another live prison album, this time in San Quentin. Both albums went gold and earned Cash the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist awards in 1969.
Also in 1969, The Johnny Cash Show began airing on ABC. The show, taped at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, featured an eclectic mix of guests ranging from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Louis Armstrong and Merle Haggard. Through his selection of guests, Cash helped bridge the generation gap and break down musical barriers. The show was also a forum Cash used to discuss social issues of the time such as the plight of the Native Americans, prison reform and the conflict in Vietnam.
In 1980, at the age of 48, Cash became the youngest living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bestowed its honor on him in 1995, thus making him one of a handful of country artists in both organizations.
In 1985, Cash joined friends Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson to form The Highwaymen. The supergroup released three albums between 1985 and 1995, scoring a No. 1 hit with the single "Highwayman" from their first album.
Cash eventually left Columbia Records and joined the American Recordings label in the late 1990s. Owned by rap-rock producer Rick Rubin, who had produced the seminal white rap group The Beastie Boys, Cash's series of four "American Recordings" albums earned critical and professional praise. American Recordings, released in 1994, won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album. The follow-up, 1996's Unchained, earned the Grammy for best country album in 1997. In 2000, American III: Solitary Man, included a cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," won Cash a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in 2001.
Cash's final release, 2002's American IV: The Man Comes Around, was yet another example of his ability to cross generations, and genres. The album featured covers of The Eagles' "Desperado," and "Personal Jesus" from the 1980s British alternative synth-pop giant Depeche Mode. Cash called the latter song the most "evangelical Christian" song he had ever recorded.
The enduring image of Cash came in his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt." Written by industrial rock icon Trent Reznor, the song of drug addiction, brought Cash notoriety before his death. Shot in Tennessee at his House of Cash museum, the video served as a historical look of Cash's career and life, while also eulogizing the cultural icon he had become.