To The Man in Black- Johnny Cash Museum {Tennessee}

I took some of the international students to Nashville for the day and when I asked them what was at the top of their list of what they wanted to see, I got an all around call for visiting the Johnny Cash Museum. The music and legendary icon is one that has crossed time and place to remain one of the most influential musicians of the time. Visiting this museum has long been on my own list of places to see, so I happily agreed to their request.

The Johnny Cash museum is in the heart of downtown Nashville and the building is home to not only the Johnny Cash Museum but also the Patsy Cline Museum. It is $27 to visit the Johnny Cash Museum and an additional $25 to go upstairs to the Patsy Cline Museum. Sorry Ms. Cline, but I’ll have to visit your museum on another visit because today the attention was all for The Man in Black.

Johnny Cash famously tucked a dollar bill in his guitar strings to give it a smoother sound

JR Cash was born in Arkansas to a poor family of cotton farmers. He was the middle child of the 7 children. The family would work in the fields together and sing as they worked. His mother and a family friend taught him how to play guitar and by the time he was 12 he was writing his own songs and performing on the local radio station.

As a young adult he enlisted in the Air Force where he was told he could not go by his given initials so he listed himself as John R. Cash. He spent three years serving in Germany as a Morse Code operator before returning home to marry his first wife Vivian. That sense of patriotism continued through his life and decades later he wrote ‘The Ragged Old Flag‘ . The video of him reading this poem is on repeat as part of the museum.

After moving to Memphis, he was working as an appliance salesman while he studied to become a radio announcer. At night he played his guitar with the two man band named the ‘Tennessee Two’. He applied to Sun Records a few times about a recording contract to play some gospel music. But the producer, Sam Phillips, was no longer accepting gospel music. But as Cash developed his “rockabilly” style, he was then contracted by Sun Records. The museum had the original copy of ‘I Walk The Line’ signed by Johnny Cash and the producer Sam Phillips.

original ‘I Walk the Line’ signed by Johnny Cash

One day in the studio Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash came together for an impromptu jam session. This jam session would come to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Johnny Cash later wrote in his autobiography that he sang at a higher pitch to blend in with Elvis.

Johnny Cash would later marry June Carter who came herself from a legendary musical family. June’s mother, Maybelle Carter, was part of the trio who first recorded their music at the Bristol Sessions. It was 1927 and musicians from across the country came to the small town of Bristol that sits on the border of Tennessee and Virginia in order to use the latest technology to record their music. These days of recording frequently saw the Carter family as they recorded not only their own music, but joined with others. Brad and I visited the Birthplace of Country Music Museum there in Bristol a couple of years ago and loved learning more about these musical legends that paved the way for other artists.

The Carter Family at the Bristol Sessions

From June 1969 to March 1971, Johnny Cash had his own program at the Ryman Auditorium. Many artists were boosted into popularity from being featured on the Johnny Cash Show. During this time he had reconnected with his Christian roots and the final program of the Johnny Cash Show was a gospel music special with other artists.

the decades of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was friends with all the presidents and performed multiple times at the White House. President Nixon learned that not even he could tell Johnny Cash what to sing and best to let him sing what he wanted to sing. He was even the Grand Marshall for the United States Bicentennial parade.

In 1980 Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and at the time he was the youngest inductee at 48. He also was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. His style always transcended the musical boundaries. He would record a grand 97 albums throughout his life. The museum is home to every album cover adorning a wall and another wall with his gold and platinum albums.

the gold and platinum records
album covers that line the wall

Cash was not only a musician but he was artist as well. He was constantly sketching and drawing. He sketched his own Shroud of Turin that he kept in the pages of his bible. In 1971 he received an honorary Doctorate Degree in Divinity from Gardener- Webb University. He never forgot the grass roots of gospel singing that he had grown up with and many on his songs carried themes of moral tribulation and redemption.

The last area of the museum had screens playing the music video for his song ‘Hurt’. It was such a powerful moment watching the clips from his life. June Carter passed away at the age of 73 in May 2003. She urged him to keep working and taking that to heart, he recorded 60 more songs in the next 4 months of his life. Johnny Cash passed away in September 2003 at the age of 71.

What an incredible experience to learn more about Johnny Cash and the impact that he had on the music world. Though certainly a man with troubled periods of heartache, rejection, and addiction he continued to create music that reached to the heart of people. This museum is a beautiful tribute to his life and legacy of being the Man in Black.

If you enjoyed reading on this music legend, then you might be interested in other places in Tennessee connected to Johnny Cash:

The Ryman Auditorium- Nashville Tennessee

Country Music Hall of Fame- Nashville Tennessee

The Grand Ole’ Opry- Nashville Tennessee

Bristol Sessions and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – Bristol Tennessee & Virginia

Thanks for coming along on this visit to the Johnny Cash Museum. May you find life and love like a ring of fire.

31 responses to “To The Man in Black- Johnny Cash Museum {Tennessee}”

    • It was an expensive entry fee-keeping in line with everything else in downtown Nashville. But the museum was great look at the different eras of his life with equal look at successes and failures which I liked.

  1. I hate using the term “bucket list”, but this does feel like something I simply have to see one day. Both Sladja and I are fans of Johnny’s music and I’m glad the museum does a good job of honouring his legacy without shirking away from his troubles. I’m not surprised the ‘Hurt’ video was used, as it is surely one of the greatest music videos all time. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it. The entrance fee is pricy but how exploitive to shove another big price on top for Patsy Cline. I wonder if, from time to time, they have combos deals for a limited time?

    • You would love this museum for sure! I did like that they gave an honest look at his life, both good and bad. And with the Hurt video, there was a group watching it over and over and there was not a dry eye there. Everytime I hear it, I’m just hit with the profound perspective it has. It is expensive for a museum- and then to want to charge more to go upstairs for Patsy Cline. Sadly, I don’t think they offer any combo prices because it being Nashville they are all about getting their money’s worth from all the visitors. But I would put Johnny Cash museum in my top 5 of Nashville to-dos 🙂

  2. Great post, Meg! I didn’t even know about this museum. It will definitely be at the top of our itinerary the next time we visit Nashville. Johnny Cash was such an icon. I love Patsy Cline too, but the price is awfully high to visit both museums. We tried to visit her home in Winchester, Virginia, but it was closed because of Covid.

  3. Although I’m not particularly a country music fan, I don’t think I could visit Nash illegal and not go to this museum! You’ve told his story so well, I almost feel like I HAVE been there 😁

    • Thank you, that’s so kind! The man was such a legend in country and rock and roll. I really enjoyed seeing more of his life and the things that made him who he was-the good and the bad all together. I would put this museum in my Nashville top 5 I think 🙂

  4. The museum has done a fantastic job in honoring the legendary Man in Black. I particularly liked the display of the photos of him through the decades. He certainly had a tragic life, with so much heartache and without the support of his father (if that part of the movie is true), but found the strength and desire to follow his dream. Great post Meg!

    • Thank you! The man was certainly a legend. I loved the decades pictures too. At each one you could listen to his songs from that decade so I spent a lot of time there just enjoying listening to him sing. 🙂

  5. Visiting the Johnny Cash Museum sounds like it was a fun field trip for your international students and yourself. It’s so interesting to learn more about his early years. I didn’t know that he was also an artist and enjoyed drawing.

    • I learned a lot about him from the museum. I loved learned about the jam session with Elvis. I was amazed at the international students being so excited to see the museum. They are all young enough to have missed Johnny Cash completely, but somehow these young adults from all over the world not only knew him but wanted to go his museum. 🙂

    • I realized how little I knew about him when I went there so I learned a lot. I’ve always loved his music, but knew very little about who he was. Definitely an interesting life, full of the good and the bad.

  6. I’m not really a country music fan but of course am familiar with some of the music of Johnny Cash. The museum appears well planned covering all of his highs and lows. A very informative post Meg.

    • Thank you Marion 🙂 The museum was really well done and I learned a lot from it. I was surprised how familiar all the young students were with him and his music. For being so young, I was surprised they even knew Johnny Cash.

  7. Great synopsis of his life Meg. Before I saw the film Walk the Line I hadn’t really listened to his music, that film remains one of my all time favourites

  8. What an incredible place! I’d have to admit it would be top of my list too for visiting that area. I grew up with my dad playing a lot of Johnny Cash records and so know his music well. He certainly had quite the life and it’s nice to know that at the end he seems to have found peace within himself. Thanks for sharing your photos and visit here!

    • This museum is in my top favorites of things to do in Nashville now. One section had the music of the decade of his life and it was so fun to just sit and listen to the change that each decade made to his music. 🙂

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