September 12, 2003 - Posted at: 6:11 p.m. CDT
DYESS, Ark. -- "The Mount Rushmore" of American music got his start in the flatlands of the Arkansas Delta.
Arkansas native and American music icon Johnny Cash died early Friday morning at a hospital in Nashville at the age of 71. Cash's manager says the singer died of complications from diabetes, resulting in respiratory failure.
Cash was born in Kingsland in 1932. When he was three years old, Cash moved with his family to Region 8 and the Dyess Colony in Mississippi County.
Cash spent much of his childhood at his family's home in the town of Dyess. The family moved from Kingsland when his father Ray Cash took advantage of a new Roosevelt farm program and moved his young family to Mississippi County.
The Cash family farmed 20 acres of cotton and other seasonal crops, with John working alongside his parents and siblings in the fields. Cash had said he never thought about fame until it came, but knew as a child that he would sing on the radio someday.
"I really didn't think he would make it with that voice at first," said Janie Wooten, who grew up with Cash in Dyess.
Cash lived in Dyess until high school graduation in 1950. Wooten remembers when Cash returned from the Air Force and would put on shows for friends in the neighborhood. There were a lot of skeptics of Cash's future at the time, especially Wooten's husband.
"I said, 'Well what did you think?'" Wooten said. "And he said, 'I think he better stick to his cotton sack.'"
Cash did go on to make it big, launching his career in Memphis at the same Sun Studios that launched his contemporary, Elvis Presley.
Cash had dozens of hit records, including "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line." He recorded albums celebrating the railroads, and the Old West. He was oppossed to the mistreatment of Native Americans, and some people say a lot of his music is a reflection of his upbringing. When he was 12, his older brother, a preacher, died in an accident.
"The whole family was just very devasted," Wooten said. "The whole family was very Christian."
As Cash's career flourished, so did his musical venues. He often held concerts in prison, leading people to believe he served time in prison. Even though he was a star, he would often return to Dyess to visit.
"He would always come," Wooten said. "He would always come at least every year or two.
"He was in an RV then, they didn't have buses like they do now. But that RV would drive up and here my kids would go," she added.
Cash battled many addictions in his life, and he credited his late wife June Carter Cash for helping him stay off drugs. Cash received countless musical awards and is the only man to hold a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"It was just a good family," Wooten said of the Cash family. "I think he had a good life with his family, and everybody that knew him seemed to like him."