Joanne Cash: Sister of Johnny Cash talks about a lifetime of country music memories

Thursday 11th October 2007

Mike Rimmer talked at length to JOANNE CASH, country gospel singer and younger sister of The Man In Black.

Continued from page 1

Her album contains a version of "I Was There When It Happened"; the original of course was done by Fern Jones and the song was one of Johnny's many favourites. That was the song that Johnny Cash played at his audition at Sun Studios. Joanna laughs, "Yeah, Sam Phillips said, 'Do you really want to sing that song?!' But it's been an old favourite of ours all of our lives and I recorded that on my new CD just for memory's sake and for the movie. After Johnny passed away I sat down one afternoon and I was so hurt, I was hurting so bad, and I listened to four hours of Johnny Cash gospel and that was one of the songs that lifted me up and blessed me. Cried all the way through it but it was a blessing to me. And I WAS there when my salvation happened and I certainly do know that it's real."

The Cash Family
The Cash Family

Johnny Cash's fame must have had a huge affect on the family, it must have been as equally difficult as it was joyful for him to be so popular and yet face so many struggles, particularly in the '60s with the drugs and alcohol. "It was awful," recalls Joanne. "There were many days when we didn't know if Johnny would live from day to day because the drugs had control of him at that time. As the movie showed, his schedule was so tight night after night after night, usually in different cities. Your body can't take that. And someone offered him the drug to make him 'feel better'. And you know the story of that, how it'll tear your body down eventually. There were many, many times that I believe prayer brought Johnny through. My mother and all of us prayed for Johnny daily and I know that God brought him through because he had a great plan for Johnny. I'm very thankful to God that he didn't die on one of those terrible times."

I observe that in his later life Johnny Cash maintained a great dignity. "Yes he did," agrees Joanne. "He was a man of dignity. Something about Johnny that I always appreciated was that he really didn't go for what we call small talk. Johnny was a very brilliant man. He was a very spiritual man and a very talented man. He would listen to me, but when I got off on what I call 'chasin' rabbits' he would go back on the subject. He was a man of, 'Let's get down to the subject. Let's talk about what we want to talk about. Let's talk about God. Let's talk about Heaven.' And if you talked about something trivial, or what your cousin's uncle did, you'd lose him. His attention span was very short. But what he said to you was brilliant and you never forgot it."

At the time of his death, Johnny Cash's career and music had been appreciated afresh and his later American albums had been critically acclaimed. As health issues kicked in, Cash had to work hard to carry on recording and his later work has a gravitas and power that communicates. Lesser men would have stopped recording. Joanne was with him during his final stay in hospital and remembers, "He'd been in and out of the hospital many times, with pneumonia, and he was a diabetic and neuropathy set in. That's eventually what took him. But more than that I think he just had a broken heart, when June died. But I was with him that night. He died just after midnight. I was with him up to close to midnight and then I had to leave because my husband had to get food. He too is a diabetic and we had to get some food in him."

Joanne continues but her voice breaks as she remembers, "I saw him for the last time just before midnight and he opened his eyes and I told him, 'John, just take the hand of Jesus. It's okay, you can go.' And he slipped away. Rosanne called me about two o'clock in the morning and she said, 'Daddy has just slipped away.' Those were her words. And of course it hit the news media the next morning and it was everywhere. It was like a knife sticking in my heart because we were so close. Not only close as brother and sister but close as brother and sister in the Lord. Johnny said to me just a few days before he passed, 'When I pass do you think anybody will really care?' I said, 'John! You know better than that!' He said, 'Nah, I just wondered! I just wondered if anybody'd care.' And he's all over every newscast in the world! And in Tennessee, on our home newspaper, was a whole front page photo of him. So he was standing there and it said, 'GOODBYE MR CASH.' But Johnny didn't realise how wonderful he was. He was a very humble man. And I said to him, when I was in the hospital, I said, 'I'll see you in a little while. It's not goodbye, it's goodnight. I'll see you in the morning.' And he slipped on out and took the hand of Jesus. I know he did."

She continues, "My husband and I did several services. They wanted Billy Graham to come and do his service but Billy Graham was having surgery the next morning and could not come. He was very devastated at Johnny's death. So we asked for Franklin Graham and that's who came and did his service. There was a presence even in the funeral home, the presence of God, and it was wonderful. It was the most bittersweet thing I've ever experienced. And you know what? I'm gonna see him again. The Lord's coming soon. I'm gonna see Johnny! I'll put my arms around him and then he's gonna say, 'Welcome home baby!' In that deep voice, 'Welcome home baby!' I know that's what he's gonna say."

Some time later, news flashed round the world that Johnny Cash's house had burnt down. Joanne remembers "My brother Tommy and I, as well as a lot of the other artists like the Oak Ridge Boys, stood there and watched it burn to the ground. And it was awful. It was awful. My heart hurt again. For a few hours it was like Johnny died again, because it was memories that we were seeing burned to the ground. But you know what? After I got to thinking about it, and my heart went out to Barry Gibb because he owns the property, I said, 'God you knew about this before it happened.' I feel it in my heart. . . and I don't feel this to any detriment to Barry Gibb because I love the man. He's a wonderful person but just John and June were supposed to live there. But Barry Gibb is such a wonderful human being. He's going to clean out all that and make a memorial garden there for John and June. He's going to build his house up on the hill. He didn't have to do that and I say God bless you for that. He loved John and June so much and I think it's just a great thing, a very honourable thing he's doing."

Meanwhile the Cash family music carries on and the faith that sustained the family through the good and bad times is still strong. Joanne Cash's album 'Gospel' reflects a life steeped in country music and life changing experience of Jesus communicated in a down to earth way. It was a moving experience talking to her and as sometimes happens when I interview people, I really felt God was there in the conversation. The time to chat is over and I say my goodbyes. I stand to leave and still seated, Joanne shakes my hand firmly, looks me straight in the eye and says simply, "I felt Jesus there, didn't you?" I can only say that I did! CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Georgi Miller in bellview middle school @ 14:58 on Sep 30 2013

Joannae how do youget along so well with johnny? I can never seem to get along with my brother

Posted by LEUNORA AKETCH in TANZANIA DARESALAAM @ 20:36 on Jul 2 2013

joanne iam a big fan of you from tanzania and i would be blessed to become your friend.please get back to me via my email plz.thax

Posted by charlene williams in Atlanta, Ga. @ 19:14 on Aug 18 2011

my name is charlene williams i have tried to contact tommy cash but was unable to reach him i am writting a book about myself i was kidnap as infant am writting a book johnny cash told the story about the indian Cherokee Removal Act i am cherokee and they are my ancestry's and i am putting them into my book there names is Chief Red Bird And Chief George hawk Size-more are my ancestry and would love to put the story of johnny cash telling the story how it was back there then 1830 if you can contact his sister joanne cash i would love to have her permission to put it on cd into my book my email address is plese send me and email and respond back to me thank you very much and god bless you. charlene williams

Posted by Robert Henson in Bartlett TN @ 14:51 on Feb 19 2008

Joanne, I am the 7th child of H. O. and Nancy Henson. We had the place that joined the back of your home in Center. You mother and mine were good friends. Dad use to car pool with your dad to work at Buckeye. You mother took a collection a collection for dad when he had a stroke. Dad attended the Dyess Baptist Church and I remember seeing you there. If I am not mistaken you sometimes played the piano.

Your brother Tommy took me to the doctor when I was bitten by a rabid dog one summer.

Thanks for the interview, I really enjoyed it.

God Bless,
Robert Henson

Posted by A J Henson in Bartlettk, TN @ 13:54 on Oct 12 2007

Joanne you are probally too young to remember me, but I spent many a night in the Cash home. I was a classmate or J R's. I dropped out of school after the 11th grade and joined the army. J R was always a special memory of Dyess and school.

Posted by Everett Henson in Memphis, Tn. @ 01:36 on Oct 12 2007

I was raised at Dyess, married a Dyess girl in1945 and we are still togather. I have more history of Dyess Colony than I know of. I also have a Dyess Colony web site. I am proud that J R made it big in the music buisnes. I am proud to have been raised at Dyess. EVERETT and JOHNNIE Murphy Henson.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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