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A Legacy of Music


Defining yourself, breaking away from the image projected by your parents, can be hard for any child. But imagine the difficulty encountered by children entering the same universe as a super-star parent, one whose style and performances are known and loved by millions.

Then think of the challenge faced by Rosanne Cash, daughter of mega-Country-Western star Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black” who influenced an entire generation of American music. And, as if that was not enough, Rosanne Cash was absorbed by extension into the Carter family, genuine royalty in the world of country music through her father’s second marriage to June Carter Cash.

Well, Rosanne Cash rose to the occasion, establishing her own musical credentials, including 4 Grammys and 12 Grammy nominations as well as other awards and accolades.

This musical phenom, who appears Saturday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, has both enjoyed the benefits of an illustrative name and met the challenges of proving her own worth. Born in 1955 in Memphis TN, her birth coincided with the first stirrings of fame for her father. Her early relationship with her father was marred by long absences while he toured, his substance abuse and the subsequent divorce of her parents when she was 11.

“My childhood was chaotic,” she has been quoted as saying. “I understood from a really young age that (my dad) was an artist and that his mind worked differently.”

Johnny Cash’s career spiraled upward even as his personal life was in decline. Strung out on drugs, it was not until he formed a relationship with June Carter in the 1960s that he began to find the sobriety and direction that allowed him to form a deeper relationship with his daughters from his first marriage.

Rosanne Cash wrote the New York Times Bestseller, Composed: A Memoir, in 2010 about growing up with and without her father, and about “how she slid out from under his shadow to become a gifted artist in her own right.”

In that same year she told Billboard that her father was “a tough guy with a huge soul” who worked out his feelings through his music. “Even though he was a great artist, in private moments he didn’t open up about his feelings. … That was the way he kind of got his feelings out in those moments, and it was very beautiful. And after that, of course, we got a lot closer in the last decade of his life,” she said.

After graduating from high school, her musical education continued as she joined her father's road show for two and a half years, first as a wardrobe assistant and later as a background vocalist and occasional soloist. In 1976, her father recorded her composition Love Has Lost Again on his album, One Piece at a Time. After subsequent study at Vanderbilt University and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, she recorded a demo in 1978 with Rodney Crowell, who was later her husband and collaborator for more than a decade.

Although often classified as a country artist, her music draws on many genres including folk, pop, rock, blues and Americana. In 1985 she received her first Grammy and has had 11 number-one country hit singles, 21 Top 40 country singles and two gold records.

Even as Johnny Cash’s spiritual journey and social activism grew out of the circumstances of his life, leading him to advocate for Indian rights, better treatment of prison inmates and tolerance for political dissent, his daughter has delved deeply into her own history to create some of her best music. Her divorce from Crowell is reflected in her album, Interiors, which signaled a break from her pop country genre and inaugurated a whole new chapter in her life. The intimate album was her "brutally dark take on intimate relationships …,” according to Rolling Stone.

Moving from Nashville to New York City following her divorce, she has since released 6 albums, written 3 books and edited a collection of short stories. In 2015 she joined her late father in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Her most recent album, 2019’s She Remembers Everything, is founded in her disappointment in the United States’ longstanding refusal to embrace women’s rights. In a short video about the making of the album, she explains, “I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. I believed in progress and that things would become more equal, that women would get equal pay and all the prejudice and subjugation would fall away. And then I started to feel crushed and that this horrible regressive thing was happening and that, for my sake and my daughters’ sake, and for young women’s sake, it was important to plant your flag in the ground. I thought I had to write the album I wanted to write.”

She says she wrote Undiscovered Country as a testament to the #MeToo movement and women who have spoken up. “I think at the end of my life the regrets I would have would be about not living out loud,” she said, “not saying what is true for me.”

Her activist role does not stop with the #MeToo movement. She is also a longtime board member of The Center to Prevent Youth Violence (CPYV), an organization dedicated to preventing gun violence among children and she has been associated with Children Incorporated for more than a quarter center, working to support and educate needy children and young adults worldwide. She is a dedicated supporter of artists' rights in the digital age and sits on the board of the Content Creators Coalition.

Cash performs at 8 PM Saturday. Tickets can be obtained by visiting the link below.