In an emotional exchange, Kris Kristofferson accepted the Johnny Cash Visionary Award from singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash during Monday’s (April 16) 2007 CMT Music Awards show at Nashville’s Belmont University. The award recognizes “an artist’s extraordinary musical vision, innovative and groundbreaking music and pioneering initiatives in entertainment.”
Rosanne Cash acknowledged it was a difficult task to compose her remarks about Kristofferson, an artist she greatly admires who was also one of her late father’s close friends.
“When I first began to collect my thoughts about presenting this award to Kris and about what I would say,” she said, “I kept thinking, ‘Nothing I say will be good enough. Nothing I say could convey the respect I hold in my heart, the love the admiration and the plain awe of the humanity and talent contained in that one gorgeous man.’
“When I played some shows with Kris last year, I realized and knew that he is an artist with nothing to lose. He can risk everything because he never compromises his integrity. He is his art, and his art is him. They are inseparable.
“He has the power and the fearlessness of one who acts purely from the truths of his own heart, unsullied by concerns about image or marketing or popularity. He is not ‘a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction’ — as he once aptly described my father. He has whittled away his own contradictions to the essence of his humanity … a man who believes in love, honor, peace, compassion and who acts accordingly and who writes like an oracle.”
Her comments were followed by a video tribute in which Kristofferson’s achievements as a songwriter, recording artist, actor and humanitarian were heralded by Willie Nelson, record producer Don Was, Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, actor-musician Russell Crowe, Keith Urban, Gretchen Wilson and actor Luke Wilson. In addition to their comments, the presentation included a particularly poignant moment with a video clip of Johnny Cash inviting Kristofferson to help him sing “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Kristofferson was obviously misty-eyed when it came time to accept the award.
“Don’t cry,” he told his friend’s daughter. “I’ll start crying, too.”
Kristofferson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, explained Johnny Cash’s importance in his life.
“About 42 years ago, back when I was still wearing an Army uniform and I was older than Hank Williams was when he died, I shook Johnny Cash’s hand backstage at the Ryman Auditorium,” he said. “And it changed my life. He was my hero. He was my inspiration. He was my champion. And ultimately — incredibly — he was my friend.
“I got to go around the world making music with him and seeing that spiritual communion that went down between John and his audience. I wrote a song for him called ‘Good Morning, John.’ It was for one of his birthdays or his sobriety celebration or something like that. In it, I said, ‘I love you, John. In the cold and holy darkness, you were always shining brighter than a star.’
“God bless you, John, for the love and joy you’ve given and the living inspiration that you are. Bob Dylan said it the best. He said that John was like the North Star: You could guide your ship by him.”
Past recipients of CMT’s Johnny Cash Visonary Award include the Dixie Chicks (2002), Johnny Cash (2003), Reba McEntire (2004), Loretta Lynn (2005) and Hank Williams Jr. (2006).