June Carter Cash - Biography
By J Poet
Without The Carter Family there would be no country music and without June Carter Cash there would be no Johnny Cash, or at least not the Johnny Cash who became an international superstar. While not a particularly good singer, Carter was a fine musician, wowing folks with her skills on Autoharp, guitar, banjo, and harmonica. She was an actor, comedian, songwriter and a link between the folk music of the Appalachian Mountains and the country music that evolved from it. She recorded infrequently, but the albums she did make are all solid efforts, in particular the duet albums she made with Cash and Press On (1999 Risk, 2003 Dualtone), which won a Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy in 1999.
Valerie June Carter was born June 23, 1929, in Maces Springs, VA., the second of the three daughters of Mother Maybelle Carter of the legendary Carter Family. She learned Autoharp and guitar at a young age and by the time she was 10 she was singing with her mother, A.P. Carter and Sara Dougherty Carter as part of The Carter Family on radio and in live performances. Her sisters Helen and Anita also joined the group.
When A. P. Carter retired in 1942, Maybelle continued performing with her daughters as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 and were a featured act on WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia. June Carter was a natural performer and comic and developed a hayseed character named Aunt Polly and charmed audiences with her quick ad-libs. (Chet Atkins got his start in the business playing guitar behind the group.)
In 1955, director Elia Kaman saw Carter perform and suggested that she study acting. She moved to New York and studied with Lee Strasbourg at the Neighborhood Playhouse where he classmates included James Dean and Robert Duvall. (She later appeared a Duvall’s mother in his 1998 film The Apostle.) She landed parts in early TV shows like Gunsmoke, but chose to return to Nashville and her musical career.
In 1949 she had a hit with Homer & Jethro on the single “Baby It's Cold Outside.” She married, had a child (Carlene Carter) and divorced country singer Carl Smith in the early 50s. Colonel Tom Parker managed her after she started her solo career; he put her on tour with Elvis Presley. She married and divorced police officer Rip Nix with whom she another daughter, Rosie.
In 1961 Johnny Cash added Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters to his touring band. Cash and June began performing onstage duets and writing songs together. They cut Dylan’s “It Ain't Me Babe” and the song was a country and pop hit in 1964. Their duet album Carryin’ On (1967 Columbia, 2002 Columbia) included “Jackson”, a country and pop hit. The song won a Best Country Performance for a Duo or Group Grammy. She also wrote other Cash hits including “Happy to Be with You” and “Ring of Fire” (with Merle Kilgore). After a long courtship, Cash and Carter married in 1968. Cash credits Carter with helping him kick his drug habit and strengthening his Christian faith.
Between cash tours, Carter, her mother and sisters continued performing as The Carter Family, helping the flame of traditional country and folk music alive. In 1970, she won another Best Country Performance for a Duo or Group Grammy with Cash for “If I Were a Carpenter.” Her duets with Cash are collected on Johnny & June Carter Cash – The Hits (2006 Columbia Legacy). She cut her first solo album Appalachian Pride (1975 Columbia), a collection of strong original tunes, with Johnny Cash producing in the early 70s, but it took a few years before Columbia released it.
For most of the next 20 years Carter took a back seat to her husband, although she remained a featured singer on his tours. In 1999 she finally returned to the studio for Press On (1999 Risk, 2003 Dualtone), an acoustic outing that contains stunning original songs that tell her autobiography in song. Johnny Cash joins her on the spiritual “The Far Side Banks of Jordan.” The album won the Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy in 1999. She had just finished work on another album - The Wildwood Flower (2003 Dualtone), an all acoustic tribute to the Carter Family featuring Cash, Marty Stuart, Carlene Carter and Norman and Nancy Blake – when she died suddenly after heart surgery. Columbia Legacy released Keep On The Sunny Side - June Carter Cash: Her Life And Her Music in 2005. The two disc set had over 40 tracks with performance spanning the years 1939-1999, including the complete Appalachian Pride album. Louisiana Hayride (2003 Scena) is a collection of live performances from Carter’s early days and includes comedy routines as well as some country classics.