Singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, born J.R. Cash on this date in 1932, released eight dozen albums (ten or more of them certified platinum or multi-platinum) and had thirteen number-one songs over a storied, almost legendary fifty-year career. He was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was an powerful influence on country, rock, and gospel music in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
Cash dressed in black and sang about sorrow and suffering long before goth kids tried to make it uncool—and then years took one of their favorite songs and made it better.
A Christian converted from a hellraiser, Cash held close to his heart not only prisoners (for whom he performed for free, most notably at San Quentin on 1969) but also the “poor and the beaten down” and the “sick and lonely old.”
While the phrase “American icon” gets thrown around all too casually—it’s the title of a recent book on pitcher Roger Clemens, for example—it suits or, if possible, even shortchanges Cash’s stature among his peers, critics, and fans.
Even if he weren’t an American icon, though, we would commemorate him today simply because we think this picture is awesome: