Johnny Cash Collector Opens an Impressive Museum

Artifacts Include Stage Clothes, Awards and Lyrics Sheets

The Johnny Cash Museum is a new attraction in downtown Nashville where fans can explore the legendary entertainer’s career as a musician, author and actor. Located in a historic building near the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway, the museum contains an impressive collection of artifacts that allow the visitor to experience all these aspects of Cash’s life.

Initially a fan and avid collector of Cash memorabilia, museum owner and curator Bill Miller became a personal friend of Johnny Cash over the years. During a private tour of the museum, Miller described some of the artifacts in detail. Pointing to one of his favorite displays in the collection, he explained: “[Cash] recorded ’Ring of Fire’ in Spanish, and these are transmittals from Columbia Records to the producer and manager setting it all up. And here are the lyrics to ’The Matador,’ and this is the actual lyric sheet for ’Fuego de Amor,’ which is ’Ring of Fire.’ Johnny gave it to June. In his own hand he wrote ’for June Carter.'”

You know that photograph of a defiant Cash thrusting his middle finger toward the camera? As popular as the image is, you won’t see it here. Miller explained the absence and pointed out a related item on the wall.

“That’s the jumpsuit that he wore, the famous jumpsuit where he’s flipping the bird,” he said. “He didn’t like that picture even though the estate licensed it. He told me he didn’t like it, so out of respect, that picture won’t be in here.”

Along the way, interactive exhibits provide a way to learn more about the artifacts. Documents and photos from Cash’s marriages and early career are displayed, including the marriage certificate from March 1, 1968, when he wed June Carter in Franklin, Ky.

One corner highlights the “Folsom Prison Blues” singer’s concern for those in prison — displaying photos, handwritten lyrics and more. Exposing his patriotic side, there’s a dark room where the American flag is displayed with Cash’s image projected onto it. Cash’s booming voice plays over speakers, letting you experience firsthand his love for the United States.

The rear portion of the museum contains a theater that shows clips from Cash’s film career. The walls are adorned with vintage posters advertising several of the actor’s movies, and a broad case contains costumes and instruments related to television and film appearances.

About midway through the tour, you get a triple whammy. One wall contains scores of gold and platinum records to ogle, plus three of the five CMA Awards Cash won in 1969. Across from that is the enormous, carefully restored “House of Cash” sign, which once greeted visitors at the previous museum near the former Cash home in Hendersonville, Tenn. The other wall in this area contains relics you might recall from the “Hurt” video — a stone wall (using actual stone from the Cash house) and the huge antique carved buffet and chairs all seen in the video. You’ll also get a glimpse of a place setting you would have seen had Johnny and June invited you over for dinner.

Cash dabbled in the visual arts, and the museum presents drawings and sketches from that aspect of his life.

Miller clearly enjoys seeing the collection in a brick-and-mortar space where admirers can learn more about Johnny Cash.

“What we try to do is show people things that they’d probably never see at any other museum or any other place. … It’s really been a major journey collecting all this stuff and putting it all together. There was a point when I had so much stuff, and I said, ’Do I have too little? Do I have too much? Will it all tie together?’ Then you start going through things you’ve had 30-40 years, and you go, ’It’s working!'”

The Johnny Cash Museum is open daily from 11a.m.-7 p.m. Tickets are $14. It is located at 119 Third Avenue S. in downtown Nashville.

See photos from the Johnny Cash Museum.
Brian Tipton joined CMT in 2005, after cutting his teeth on Music Row.