Country Stars Remember Johnny Cash

A towering figure in American music, Johnny Cash devoted his rich life to music and his family, and many country stars believe that’s how he’ll best be remembered.

“Not only has the world lost a legend, but we in country music have lost one of our family,” said Loretta Lynn. “I know both Johnny and June will always be looking down and watching over us all. The stars in heaven are just a little brighter.”

“This is a very sad day for me as well as for millions of music fans around the world,” said George Jones. “John was a very dear friend — we had a long history together. We both went through a lot of messes in the old days but ended up realizing what was important in life and changed our ways. I just went out and visited him a few weeks ago and he looked so good and was busy recording new material. I know that the angels will sing today and heaven is a better place with the addition of Johnny Cash. I’m sure he is happier now that he is with his beloved June.”

“The world has lost a legend, and I have lost a friend,” said Emmylou Harris. “Johnny Cash was the rare soul who could be both.”

“Johnny Cash has only passed into the greater light … he will never, ever die,” said Dolly Parton. “He will only become more important in this industry as time goes by. I’m sure he’s happy today now that he’s with June.”

Many of today’s country stars knew Cash and his family intimately. Others had only met him once or twice. Regardless, he left quite an impression on everyone he met.

“A man in black stepped through three pearly white gates today into the waiting arms of his angel June Carter Cash,” said Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn. “Mortal man may be saddened, but heaven’s singing.”

Dunn’s wife Janine was a widow when she met Ronnie, and her former husband was a close friend of the Cashes. When the Dunns moved to Nashville, the Cashes helped them find a small log home to live in. And when Brooks & Dunn took one of their earliest photo shoots, Johnny Cash offered Ronnie a black Manuel suit as a present, adding “though don’t tell June. She doesn’t like me giving this stuff away.”

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of my children’s grandfather and my very dear friend,” said Rodney Crowell, who was married to Cash’s daughter Rosanne for 13 years. “I loved big John with all my heart. The citizens of the world have lost one of their most enduring guiding lights. As a musical hero to millions, a trailblazing artist, humanitarian, spiritual leader, social commentator and, most importantly, patriarch to one of the most varied and colorful extended families imaginable, Johnny Cash will, like Will Rogers, stand forever as a symbol of intelligence, creativity, compassion and common sense. I’m thinking Mount Rushmore.”

Marty Stuart joined Cash’s touring band in 1979 and was married to his daughter Cindy for six years. “I have lost one of my best friends,” Stuart said. “It leaves a dark void in my life that is blacker than any coat he ever wore. He is irreplaceable. Even in death I have no doubt that Johnny Cash will continue to live on as an inspiration to musicians and songwriters and all of America.”

While Cash remains a huge influence among today’s stars, he also earned the respect of the country stars who came before him.

Grand Ole Opry star Jimmy Dickens said, “Johnny Cash was indeed one of the most fabulous entertainers in country music, but not only in country music — in all of show business. He was by far one of the greatest that has ever lived. … I knew him to be a generous man. When my wife died in an automobile accident over 30 years ago, he catered food to our home during that entire time. He also donated $1,000 to me to help. That’s the kind of man he was.”

Within the last year, two tribute albums were released to honor Cash’s music. One featured largely mainstream country stars, while the other featured musicians on the fringe of country music circles. Rosanne Cash also invited her father to sing on “September When It Comes,” a poignant ballad written about facing one’s mortality.

While longtime country fans knew hits like “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire,” Cash found a younger audience with his intense video for “Hurt,” which many consider a fitting coda to his career.

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who wrote the song, said, “To hear that Johnny was interested in doing my song was a defining moment in my life’s work. To hear the result really reminded me how beautiful, touching and powerful music can be. The world has truly lost one of the greats. My heart goes out to his family and friends.”

Luke Lewis, president of Lost Highway Records, said, “Johnny Cash was one of the most amazing people to grace the earth. His talents as a songwriter and an artist speak for themselves. I’m grateful to Rick Rubin for the opportunity to work with him and Johnny on American IV: The Man Comes Around. It was a true honor. To witness him receive his first gold record in 30 years was one of the proudest moments for all of us at Lost Highway. He and Rick made beautiful music together. Johnny Cash was a beautiful person.”

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Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.